Tuesday, February 25, 2014

no time for that Tuesday

Okay: I agree that it is time to toilet train my son. I remain unconvinced that his entry into the world of pooping in toilets requires gendered programming to facilitate it:

Left: gender-neutral products for the incontinent; Right: fledging continence, with an inexplicable side of Being a Boy
The picture above doesn't entirely capture the particulars of this transition from androgynous diaper-shitter to Big BOY or GIRL! Choose now! However, blocking the aisle at Family Dollar last night, after a pretty intense conversation with Mac's day care teacher about the toileting norms of his new Toddler Class, I had a mini-crisis about this new stage in my parenting journey when I innocently mistook the pink (GIRL) pull ups for red (CHILD) pull ups, only to realize that I no longer simply have a child; I now have a Little Boy.

If Mac were a girl, this particular dilemma would be easy: turn over the girl packet and you will see that these pink diapers have asinine pink flowers and other bullshit on them, while the boy pull ups have a much less irritating color and design scheme (Which I no longer remember -- turtles? shooting stars? The point is, they don't piss me off.) Were I raising a girl McCartney, we'd just buy the boy diapers and be done with it. Because their function is to contain my child's private regions and the products thereof, they lack the standard penis slit that really justifies gender specific adult undergarments.

Because Mac is a boy, though, I feel like buying him the better pull-ups, which are also the boy pull-ups, is reinforcing a system of norms that leaves little girls stuck with stupid, lame things.

And it only starts with training pants! They asked us the same question at McDonalds earlier this month, where Mac, engorged with chicken nuggets, "sip soda"'s, and the blindness of male privilege, left behind both his awesome Adventure Time toy and his effing LEGO cup. (His worthless mother was neurotically dissecting a snack wrap in an effort to avoid its shards of cheese-plastic, and noticed neither the receiving of said bounty nor its assimilation into the similarly plastic-looking, technicolor remains of our family lunch.)

Meanwhile, somewhere, a little girl is confronting her second-class status by way of this bullshit:

Okay, my two year old and I may see eye to eye only rarely, and our respective areas of expertise may  exist as a kind of Venn diagram that does not intersect, but both he and I can tell you without hesitation that that is not what a toy is. That, my friends, is jewelry. And jewelry is like clothes that you are not required to wear to stay warm and avoid arrest -- which is to say, useless and stupid.

I don't know what the incentive is, giving girls stupid shitty non-toys and dumb-looking pink pull-ups while boys get Lego cups and undies I'd be proud to run around in my damn self, but seriously, everyone, WT to the F with this. I've got no time for it.

Monday, February 24, 2014

NEDA Awareness Week

It's NEDA Awareness Week!

I try to avoid talking about eating disorders, the walk I don't talk much about sexual assault, because my experience of these things is not that of everyone affected by them. I do think that it would be terrific if there were effective options for eating disorder treatment available, if we could embrace primary and secondary interventions for these disorders, if our society did not create such a perfect storm of eating-disorder-enabling attitudes, practices, and priorities, beginning with the incredible obligation women (at least) feel to make their bodies look a specific way for the sexual and aesthetic gratification of any man they encounter.

I think it's important to recognize as both damaging and stupid the way capitalizing on looking ways that men like women to look has become so visible a means of survival/existence/achievement. I am not young, and even for my age, I have a startlingly blank slate when it comes to popular culture -- but still, were I to list the women I know, they'd mostly be actresses and cultural figures whose bodies are both excessively overwritten and, often the most interesting thing about them. I know barely any female athletes, scientists, activists, writers, engineers, inventors, political figures.  And what happens when that is the case, is that when I think about how to be myself, the most immediate priority is inevitably: don't get fat. 

I refuse to try to be attractive, because my time is precious to me and I just won't give any more of it over to choosing clothes that "flatter my frame" or toning my body so it is "bikini ready" or figuring out how to manage whatever it is that supposedly goes wrong with one's hair after thirty. You know what happens to mens' hair after thirty? It falls out. You know how many magazine spreads are devoted to the "best hairstyles" for these men? Me, neither, because no one cares, because by thirty, the men I know are completing surgical residencies, practicing law, winning Grammys, writing for Variety and The New York Times. 

But: I will waste hours of my life now, and potentially years of my future life, in the pursuit of being thin. The things I have accomplished -- completing two widely different colleges degrees, the community programs I've run, the hundreds of hours of volunteer service, the dream job obtained, the child I grew in my body and keep alive despite daily efforts to know more intimately the mechanics of moving vehicles -- these things obtain for me the right to weight more than one hundred pound, to have bad teeth, not wear makeup, refuse contacts, and "tame" my eyebrows and body hair sporadically, at best. They do not buy me the right to to be fat. 

To me, that's what an eating disorder means. That I could have been a doctor and travelled the world, but instead, I am thin. That where I was once the stocky gifted ten year old, reading at a twelfth grade level, writing novels in my spare time, planning on being an ER doctor by night and a teacher by day, I now have an ordinary life, a life in which, as my baffled husband often reassures me, when people describe me, the first thing they'd think of is "thin". 

This is a much smaller loss than those many people with eating disorders suffer, and it's certainly a smaller loss than what people with lots of other problems experience. But it is a loss, and it's the common kind that probably affects the majority of individuals with these diseases, and, I think, lots and lots of people who don't develop full-blown disorders. The substitution of goals that matter, of goals whose pursuit can actually constitute a life, and whose accomplishment can make the world a richer place, with another goddamned juice cleanse, another inane tweet about how many calories burned on one's last run or how much weight one has lost since giving up gluten. 

This is tedious, people. And while I think there's legitimate work to be done politically and socially to  reduce the incidence of eating disorders, and to provide those who already have them with more accessible, more effective treatment, I would like to promote the awareness of not having an eating disorder. That it is possible. That you do not have to earn the right to live in your body exactly as it is; that you don't have to be Hilary effing Clinton or Melissa McCarthy or any other wildly accomplished super-person to be fat, and also valuable -- especially when "fat" is, apparently, the catch all term for any body that cannot fit comfortably into clothes made for teenagers. 

If I had world enough and time for regrets about the choices I made at sixteen and twenty six, I'd regret the time I wasted feeling beholden to anyone to make my body "right" -- let alone this faceless audience whose interests are so at the heart of every fucking issue of every "women's" magazine I've ever read. As it is, this NEDA week, let's all be aware of the incredible quickness with which our lives will be over, and the sad, hollow feeling that is your prize for making sure you never, ever can be accused of having cankles. 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Parenting by Exception: or, the Slacker Mom

So, my son has inherited my tendency to want everything in the world, all the time. Mostly, like me, he wants to do everything more than to have everything (if you were conjuring up a mental image of my flip phone and jeans from 2005, which I found on somebody's stoop and have been wearing ever since). 

However, because he is two, Mac is unplagued by questions of whether or not he "deserves" the thing he wants. While I learned to bury the things I want and feel until they erupt, necrotic and disfiguring, out of my personality, he's unambivalently RIDE SUBWAY TRAIN! MOMMY LAY DOWN! All the time, he is like this. The only reliable way to stem the constant flood of demands is to ensure that he has what he wants every second, the way patients in the recovery room must be constantly monitored to prevent sentinel events.

I have a hard time parenting this recalcitrance effectively. The hittery and kickery and refusal to pick up or say Please, I can handle: the kid may be thirty pounds of sheer will, but I weigh nearly four times that in my socks, and if you care to trace that "contrary streak" to its source, well, it's not his daddy's backyard you'll find yourself stumbling into. Not only does mommy not play with Please and Thank You and picking up -- once challenged, she is entirely willing to devote twenty minutes of her finite existence to the cause of getting her way. Oh, you expected that your battle tactic of "lying on floors in public places" would shame mommy into giving in? Kid, I've lodged complaints with the concierge at the Greyhound terminal. I challenge line-cutters at the Family Dollar. With regularity, son. Have a seat.

But Mac's singleminded insistence that This Must Happen -- where "this" is anything from putting the house keys in each mommy's pocket right now, to Magic Marker Body Art, to watering the houseplants himself, to Train Tracks, then Lego Town, then the noisy, violent destruction of both Trains and Lego Town, then repeat  -- is harder for me to shut down. As obnoxious as we find tenacious people when we're at cross-purposes with them, the reality is that very few things -- good or bad -- get done by backers-down. I want my kid to be intrepid and insistent, both because I find those qualities personally entertaining and because they are necessary if one wants to be the master of one's fate.

So I get a lot of judgy face from, well, everyone -- the hipsters who genuinely don't understand that two year olds act differently than twenty-two year olds, and that the parents of those two year olds also must commute on the subway and purchase groceries, and the legit parents and grandparents who schooled their kids at the university of Because I Said So.

Basically, if it's not overtly rude or potentially dangerous, I'm inclined to let Mac try it: they're your (weird, blue) legs, kiddo.  Don't want to wear a hat? My head's warm. Life can't continue unless you're pushing the grocery basket? Who the eff cares? Let grocery shopping take fifty minutes! What, I had big plans for my Tuesday night? If moms can be plotted on a continuum of yuppie stereotypes, with "Montessori school" at one end and "aggressive and regular beatings" at the one, I'm way closer to the former than my snarkery about Occupy Wall Street and the Affordable Care Act would suggest.

I know that to the untrained eye, it appears that I simply cannot control my frolicking, hard-going, dogged pursuer of all the things, always. In reality, though, as shameful as you may find it -- you for whom Just Saying No to: 1. mysterious liquids, 2. walking around, not through, street puddles, and 3. putting things into other things is not only easy, but natural -- I genuinely enjoy that my child is doing these things.  I often find my own encounters with the Real World bringing me to the edge of histrionics; to me, both the initial efforts to remake the world according to his vision for it, and the series of meltdowns as the world resists these efforts, are entirely unremarkable, un-stress-worthy elements of an enterprise in which stressors abound (have you checked out what's going on with the Common Core in NYC schools? Nothing good, I can assure you, and it's clear I should enjoy my child while I can since evidently I will need to export him to China and/or Finland in order for him to learn to add fractions together.)

I figure that if I just scare my kid into not irritating me with tantrums and whining, he'll fail to learn the more lasting lesson that these tactics are futile. I will one day be gone, and then dead. When that happens, I want Mac to continue to not mewl and whinge, buoyed by the knowledge that 1. not just mommy, but the entire world, stands indifferent in the face of his drama, and 2.  he can get what he wants if he learns to want reasonable things and to pursue those things in a reasonable way. I don't want him to stop making messes and pursuing his passions, be they legos and subways or water or whatever other damn thing brings him joy, because others find them inconvenient. Instead, I want him to put those things in a context of a world inhabited by other people with other agendas, and to come to terms with this reality without using his teeth.

It seems that lesson may a require a few review sessions to master, and that both of us will incur a few scars -- mostly psychological, mostly -- along the way. I don't mind. I'm not willing to circumvent that learning process with No in order to reassure myself that I have my child Under Control, or that he Respects Me, when LOLNO, he respects nothing. He is two years old. He knows only fear and joy, and the world seems much more heavy-handed in doling out the first than the second, so I honestly do not believe I need to live and die on the hill of Mommy Said No. Believe me, considering that the kid's other passions have ranged from 1. Biting Everyone! to 2. Ripping Glasses off Faces to 3. What's in My Diaper: a Guided Journey, there's no shortage of No around our house.

Monday, February 10, 2014

We run things, things don't run we

So in case you've failed to read all the many, obvious words running all around and between and all over the other lines I'm writing, I've been quitting my odious job and getting other work and ranting about Woody Allen while negotiating what seemed poised to -- but won't -- become a full blown relapse of a number of emotional issues with which I struggle.

These issues are pretty tightly entwined with my understanding of God, and faith, mostly because of the circumstances through which I was introduced to both of those concepts. I've been having a lot of false starts for awhile now, trying to get back into a space where I can really say I believe in God, and have that mean anything other than words to me, and in which I also can breathe -- because, for me, in recent years, belief in God has been the first step in a kind of decompensation that ends with me acting and feeling as close to crazy-crazy, muttering and not sleeping and manic, as I get.

And if I am totally and completely honest, while I know that there have been other points in my life in which I have felt that a believe in God and a spiritual practice have been a positive element of human existence, right now I primarily associate both of those things with being mentally ill.

I get that this is what the kids call a #firstworldproblem. Terrible, terrible, terrible things happen in the world all the time. Much worse than any thing that has ever hurt me. And so I am reluctant to dwell on or even to completely articulate how incredibly angry I am at the people who educated me, who took what would have been a challenging set of circumstances through any lens -- precocious kid in a family that is both intensely loving and unfortunately rife with mental illness, abuse, poverty, and addiction -- and molded a brain and heart so bent towards their own destruction.

Cognitively Dissonant Youth Strategies 101:

  • Tell a child who has no real power to protect her body from intrusion that her value lies in keeping herself pure.
  • Tell her that when adults hurt her, the correct thing to do is to submit to it, because they know best and so she must be bad to not want them to do this to her.
  • Teach her that others come first, always, always: I recall clearly the day I learned that, should I have one hypothetical gun in my hand and the other pointed at me, I should let my hypothetical assailant take my life, so that he might have the opportunity to get to know Jesus. 
  • Teach her that injustice doesn't matter, because God is making another, better world. That nothing -- good or bad -- that happens here on earth can really matter "in light of eternity". Not accomplishing goals, not falling in love, not friendship -- certainly nothing as worldly and suspect as sex or art or going after the things you want. (See how much of her childlike enthusiasm for life remains after that particular indoctrination.)
  • But also! Make sure to include this bit of mindfuckery: anything at which you are failing, anyone whom you might be letting down -- those things matter infinitely. It doesn't matter that I finished college because only Jesus matters, but I can sure as hell feel ashamed that I did so in a body that's Fat, that proves how entitled I must feel, since clearly I didn't need all those calories that paved my way to a fully funded PhD program. (To just acknowledge that, at around a hundred twenty pounds, you actually are not fat would be vain, but feel free to berate yourself for your ongoing struggle to simultaneously despise your body and feed it exactly enough and no more).

I feel about religion right now the way I felt as a much younger adult, when I just couldn't be around certain people from my childhood who -- while their net effect on my life ultimately was positive -- had just made me too angry and damaged too much for me to choose their company. There are so many other things to do, things that I spent a long time thinking I had no right to experience when I wasn't yet "right with God": my job, my son, my body, my husband; movies, music, books, pajamas; food, games, jokes, writing.

And then there is the fact that an entire subculture exists that seems built on reinforcing this joyless, ugly, damaging way of life, on making sure that we wrench each element of a culture around a Savior who, they feel, they are called to proclaim by pointing out where you're fucking up. A subculture whose adherents:
  • when faced with people deeply in love and willing to take on the incredible challenge of committing to another human being for life, are mostly interested in the gender of those people, in their "spiritual compatibility", in whether or not they've yet had sex. 
  • are boycotting Girl Scouts,  an organization that has spent almost a century empowering girls, making their lives awesome, and teaching them skills, because they support reproductive health and fail to adequately discriminate against transgendered and lesbian women. 

Personally, I just need to sit a few rounds out entirely. I've spent the last six or seven Sundays  looking on line for churches to which I might go, meaning to go, asking my husband if I should go, feeling guilty because I didn't go. But right now, I'm too angry even to try a new approach, a new community, a new practice -- and I sure as hell need a moratorium on the various Christian blogs (liberal and evangelical) I've been reading in an effort to stay "plugged in" (ugh).

Basically, at some point, my mind turned on itself in such a way that I can graduate at the top of my class, twice, obtain a job I was too afraid to even dream of, and -- where a healthy person might feel happy and proud -- experience an anxiety attack instead, because I believe I do not deserve anything as secular and self-serving as happiness.  And the more I work on how I became this way and what I need to do to change -- the further back I go, looking for a version of me that didn't feel compelled to hate and attack herself at every turn -- the more I encounter the same voices, the same verses, compelling me to overlook and disparage and rip apart everything good I have and am in an effort to stay humble, to keep my eyes on Jesus, to be not of this world.

I think there are diverse ways of experiencing God, but the ones that are best represented right now -- the Phil Robertsons and Bill O'Reillys and Mark Driscolls and Ken Hams -- would tell you only they are doing it right. And to me, what they are doing is hideous. The idea that anyone, however privileged they might be otherwise, would spent years feeling shitty and missing out because these guys said so, or their Sabbath School teachers said so, or their aunt or father-in-law or, God forbid, mom or dad said so -- well, what it lacks in genuine pathos, it makes up for in total pointlessness. Enough people are miserable for legit and unavoidable reasons. Why make someone miserable for no reason? For a God who might just as easily be totally fine with feeling proud of oneself or wanting to be the best or loving another man (or three)?

I didn't take these things so seriously before, but I look back on my life and I see an expanse of waste. It's not at all the whole story, and everyone has things they've lost or missed out on -- but a huge proportion of the unhappiness I have experienced in my life, I've experienced because of the things I was taught to believe about God. And it's those beliefs that show up and make me feel guilty and ashamed in those moments in which a non-God-fearing person would feel happiness. And right now -- because this still affects me daily, and the more unambiguously "abusive" experiences I have had no longer do -- I can understand why so many of the people I care for can just walk away from faith and feel no loss at all.

I don't think that's how this particular story ends, for me, but it's where I'm at today.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Feelings Friday

I never loved Woody Allen, though I like him better now that his films are incorporating less of 1. his face and 2. my accompanying desire to punch said face. The characters he played seemed to be the only ones he bothered to, you know, develop (literally the only thing I remember about Annie Hall  is how awesome she looked in that vest). And the Allen characters themselves always struck me to be like early iterations of Hannah Hovath from Girls, or the casts of Friends and Seinfeld: entirely unrelatable, borderline-odious individuals whose experiences are presented as universal because of their privilege. No, I never noticed [that] -- [that], my friend, is all you.

But I did love Blue Jasmine; for the first time, Allen seemed interested enough in someone other than himself to make an entire movie about them. I liked it enough that I'd been willing to consider that my loathing for Allen may be one of my many Irrational Fears and Hatreds, and I said as much to my husband, in case he wanted to add it to the catalogue that I suspect he maintains, partly for his own amusement, partly in an effort to not set me off.

I didn't realize that when back when my mom, who possesses her own set of Irrational Fears and Hatreds, was calling Allen a pervert, she was referring to him raping his child.

I hadn't yet read this.

Or this.

Or this, which addresses Dylan's recent letter more articulately than I can.

This has been talked to death, considering that there's no longer any decision to be made: Woody Allen, like almost everyone accused of sexual abuse and assault, will never stand trial for it, and ultimately, your opinion of whether or not he abused his stepchild will not affect him, because you do not matter to Woody Allen.

As far as I can tell, the "controversy" surrounds this: whether or not Dylan Farrow, who clearly believes she was abused by Allen, has a right to produce angry diatribes when her abuser is given a lifetime achievement award, and individuals outside the situation have a right to believe Ms. Farrow over Woody Allen, and to be angry on her -- or their own -- behalf.

But if you're wondering why some of us persist in believing some little kid over a Lifetime Achiever, and to insist that actually, yes, molesting a child renders irrelevant even the most stunning artistic achievement, here are a few things to think about -- especially if you enjoy the specific privilege of not having had your body parts co-opted as entertainment for another, apparently more human, being.

First, I'm not saying that a legal decision to dismiss what Farrow is claiming is incorrect. It's extremely likely that her story was convoluted, unclear, and potentially inadmissible; I just don't think that means it is untrue. Because a seven year old's story is not airtight, that is a reason to doubt (and then, even more weirdly) attack her? Have you met a seven year old whose recollection of anything would make a decent testimony in court? Because I've worked with kids for over fifteen years, much of it spent helping them learn to communicate, and I still don't what "really happened" in any given situation they describe. This doesn't speak to their credibility; it speaks to basic realities of child development.

Moreover, I don't understand why one would expect victims of sexual violence to act differently than traumatized and broken people usually act. To listen to a victim of sexual assault -- a specific kind of attack the purpose of which is to rip apart the victim's sense of who he or she is, to let someone know that they are not actually a person -- and conclude that the details of his or her story don't line up, so he or she is lying, is to ignore most of what we know about how people survive this kind of trauma. I don't think it's reasonable to expect a "real" victim of childhood sexual abuse to be able to present a compelling enough case to trump an adult man who creates stories for a living, who does it very well, and who, by virtue of these stories, can purchase whatever credibility his gender, skin color, and social status don't automatically confer. I don't think you'd expect any child you knew to present an airtight case that she was abused, if she brought that to you. I'd like to think you'd try to help her.

When you're a kid and bodies are defined as belonging to people, except your body can be looked at and touched at the discretion of This Guy, just for fun, it's an understandable conclusion to draw that you are not a person. Not really, not as much as This Guy, who then, often, becomes These Guys, because there is nothing more humiliating than attempting to preserve some semblance of control or integrity when in point of fact, you have no ability to do so.

Imagine your sand castle, kicked casually to the ground by a stranger, or a classmate, or your stepdad, and then pissed all over. How many times would you try to rebuild it? How eager would you be to share this event with everyone, to go to the cops, to sit in court and detail how you actually are shit, your right to your own body a grotesque little joke grownups told you that you were stupid enough to fall for, and here's how This Guy brought you up to speed? How effectively would you navigate a system that is legally bound to be on This Guy's side until and unless you convince them otherwise? You can't even keep your private parts private; who do you think you are?

This is why eyewitness testimony is essentially useless: because the brain's primarily commitment is to its owner. It will remember most experiences in the most tolerable way it can, even if that means that details become inconsistent or confusing. Because confusion is generally more bearable than the alternative -- when the alternative is the visceral recollection of all the ways that, instead of being a person, you are actually excrement -- and because the initial experience was lived out under the influence of a number of neurochemicals designed to facilitate survival, not objective testimony, trauma victims rarely make great advocates for themselves.

This is unfortunate: it means that in most cases, we can give a rapist or child molester his or her rights to a fair trial, or we can bring him or her to justice -- but not both. It's entirely likely that Woody Allen molested his stepdaughter and got away with it, and that justice was done, in  a legal sense, because there wasn't enough evidence to convict him or even to try him. That would be the "just" outcome. This is not at all incompatible with an objective reality in which Allen molested Ms. Farrow;you can't go around rendering legal decisions based on inconsistent testimony, even if the guy did it.

To me, it's also totally plausible that Allen, of all people, might have found a psychiatric team to vouch for him, or a judge who'd rule in his favor, regardless of the "evidence". Think about the people you know making the case that Allen's "personal life" is unrelated to his art, and then think about what those people who consider of more value: a little kid and her vitriolic mother -- you know how scorned women get --  or all those compelling films Allen's made in the past twenty two years. Do we really want to not have Mighty Aphrodite just so this kid gets her way? Who the eff is she?

And of course, Allen might have been innocent. (I doubt it, because the actual cases in people are falsely accused of abuse are rare -- this is why they are so sensational when they happen. But it's possible. Though one might consider 1. that Ms. Farrow suffers from a spectrum of psychological problems that each have a strong correlation with childhood sexual abuse, 2. that a number of people apart from Ms. Farrow and her mother recall an "inappropriate interest" in Farrow as a child, 3. that men who abuse children often do so because they find adult women anxiety-provoking, and Allen has made something of a career out of documenting how unsettling and unmanageable he finds adult women and their sexuality, and 4. that this child said he did this, and has continued to say he did it, for twenty years.)

Or, he might have gotten away with child abuse regardless of who he was.  A lot of people do: of the people I know who have been molested or raped -- which is solidly half of the women with whom I am close enough to know these things -- exactly none of their rapists or abusers have gone to court. And any one of those rapists and abusers could find people who would vouch for their innocence if they did, because:

1. We do not live in a society in which women are granted total say-so in what happens to their bodies. It's conditional: I gave up mine by going to a club alone and getting a ride from a friend. My best friend gave up hers by getting too drunk. And a lot of children give up theirs by not understanding boundaries and sexuality well enough to say no when grown ups touch them -- because, at least in my experience, you can be seven or seventeen, but if you want to not be touched, you'd better start saying no, and loud, even if you can't possibly anticipate what you're saying no to. For you to punch my face and me to press charges, I just have to prove you punched me, not that I didn't actually want to be punched, or invite the punching in some way. We've yet to establish a similar stipulation for sex.

2. The prospect of being falsely accused of rape or child abuse is, understandably, so terrifying that many men are particularly sensitive to it -- the way many women are inclined to believe rape victims, because the prospect of being assaulted and not believed by the people who you love is also devastating. I choose to believe that men insist on the pervasive threat of false rape accusations because they are so appalled by rape and afraid of being falsely accused of it -- and not, as I suspect in my more misanthropic moments, because it serves them to maintain a distinction between "real rape" (what other, bad men do) and "false rape accusations" (what happens when a bitch changes her mind "after the fact", or "during the fact", or goes along with it with just a little prodding/liquor/rohypnol, or falls asleep on your couch).

3. It's not just that no one wants to believe that someone they know would molest a child or would rape someone; we really don't believe it. People fight for the beliefs that make life tolerable: the belief  that your friend, your partner, your husband molested a child is pretty unbearable. If all you need to avoid that pain is for the kid to be lying, for the kid to be coached, for the situation to be "unclear" -- well, the guy in question doesn't have to be Woody fucking Allen for a person to try to force the reality with which one is presented into a shape that allows him or her to get through the day.

What touches a nerve, for me, is this: I've experienced people close to me being raped and not believed because the person they were telling personally knew and loved the abuser in question. I've spent decades rewriting and revisiting my own experiences as a child because ultimately, a person who was inappropriate with my body was also personally dear to me, and I wasn't willing to cut that person out of my life. I know that you can both "disapprove" of child abuse and find the reality of believing and defending its victims not just inconvenient but profoundly threatening.

It is so incredibly hard and terrifying to accept what is true when that truth is ugly and damaging and involves someone you love. People often can't handle it. But what are we going to do if we can't handle someone's claim because her abuser makes movies we like? If you can't believe Dylan Farrow because Woody's movies matter so much to you, what are you going to do when your wife/daughter/sister tells you that your father-in-law/husband/dad molested her?

Because, like it or not, whatever your bizarre "men's rights" websites might tell you, if she tells you that, the odds are good that it is true. If your response is to look the other way because this man you have never met "wouldn't do that", if you are so convinced of that that you are willing to take your cues as to how to interpret reality from a justice system that is necessarily skewed in favor of the accused, and less necessarily skewed in favor of rich, white, male adults, then it's not just Ms. Farrow who's out of luck.

Of course you don't think this guy did it; the whole point of the crime is to drive home the fact that this guy can do what he wants, and who will believe you? If we continue to look for reasons to not only exonerate abusers legally (we "can't know for sure"; "why was she even there"; "she'd had sex with him before!"), but to demonize private citizens for choosing to believe rape victims regardless of the quality of evidence -- because the victim is their daughter or their friend or because they make a habit of personally giving victims of sexual abuse the benefit of the doubt -- we are actively maintaing a society that privileges the word of the (generally more powerful) accused not only in court but in our homes and on our streets.

I do not think we need to make our communities friendlier to alleged rapists. Certainly they should be afforded the same guaranteed of legal innocence as any other alleged criminal. But I am not obligated to take their side just because they won at a game played in their (adult, male, rich, white, celebrity) arena. And I think because we don't know what happened, what seems to be dividing people is this: which is a worse tragedy, Woody Allen's damaged reputation, should he be innocent, or living with the fallout of sexual abuse and rape for two decades and then being told that you don't have a right to complain?

To me, it's barely a question. That apparently it is for so many people makes me wonder what needs to happen for my body (female, non-celebrity) to matter as much as Woody Allen's name.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

reasons why quitting my job was the "right thing to do"

1. My job made me miserable. Not every day. But, you know, today, for example, I have four days left there. One might think this would cheer me up, but I can't ever see the silver lining through the pendulous Eeyore-quality cloud of: I have to go to work today. Everyone loves a snow day. Not everyone finds themselves envious of this guy, because sepsis would likely get them out of at least a couple of weeks.

2. My jobs don't always make me miserable. I mean, often I think they do; this is the risk one runs when attempting to do life without the battery of antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication that one so clearly needs (remember when I was home with my perfect, healthy son, and started to have panic attacks about acquiring Lou Gehrig's Disease and the likely absence of any higher power?) But often there are also things to cheer me up: my office is clean and well lit, my colleagues friendly and respectful, my work meaningful and goal oriented.

Unfortunately, what we have learned from this experience seems to be that I have a disappointingly low tolerance for: messy boiler-room offices where I am literally surrounded by echoing shrieks every thirty-eight minutes; being regularly muttered at and heckled by school safety agents; receiving hate mail from teachers; being told by our school principal and parent coordinator that there's "no real reason" for my program to exist.

I may just need to give myself permission to not want to spend another minute in middle school -- a sentiment for which I have a hard time faulting myself, given that I have never met a person who did not share it. I actually enjoy middle school kids, even in the aggregate: teaching classes of them science, for example, or tutoring them weekly. I even enjoyed working in residential care, where at least one night in five, I was holding kids down as part of our agency's "crisis management" protocol. And to be honest,

3. If I had no other options, I could keep doing this. I could make the best of it and bring myself my own flowers and ignore the daily existential crisis triggered when one is literally spending two hours a day walking ranting, angry kids from one inappropriate location to where they are supposed to be, only to have said kids walk out the moment one's back is turned. But

4. I have other options, is the thing. I have options where I am doing something I believe in -- taking care of sick people -- and find challenging, and love.

Where, as effed as the system in which I work may be, at least some of the people want what I'm selling.

Where someone in my job doesn't think I'm a clueless moron with no actual authority to tell anyone, even eleven year olds, what to do.

If only the kids in question thought this, I could maybe stick it out, though I'd still be passing up an opportunity to do what I love in order to stick it out at a job that, on a good day, I only sort of hate. But given that it seems to be everyone -- from the security agents who refused to come assist my staff when a five-foot-eleven-inch child started whaling on a teacher, to my supervisor, who now is apparently looking into whether or not we have to write up my after school counselor for pulling the child off said teacher -- who feels this way, I'm inclined to say fuck it.

5. I think my boss is currently seeing the choice as: fulfill my commitment to her, or screw her over. And I guess it is that. But it is also this choice: I could do this thing, or I could do another thing where I really believe I can be useful. If not to my patients -- though why not? at least some of them must want to stop having cancer! -- then to my child, who, with any luck, will get back the mother who was able to express feelings beyond frustration and rage, and who may now be able to have his hair cut in a cuttery-of-hair, rather than not cut, because we keep believing we will do it at home, to save money, and then chickening out.

It still hurts, though. I don't know if the problem is that I'm weak for not loving a job with these particular work conditions, or selfish for choosing the opportunity to do what I love, or both. But I do know that being actively resentful of everyone who didn't hate their work situation did little to make me the friend, mom, wife, human being I wanted to be.

There's no choice between being awesome and sticking it out here. I am apparently making a choice between being miserable and desperate here, and potentially happy somewhere else. I may not like that choice, but there it is. Welcome to real life, in which no one is ever exactly the way you want them to be. Including, as it turns out, yourself.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Getting through Monday: a caveat

This Monday: especially hard to get on with.

I didn't know Philip Seymour Hoffman, and to be honest, I often have a hard time understanding it when people feel personally hurt by the loss of someone whom they only actually knew through movies or books. But this loss is really getting to me, too. It's painful and frightening, not just because I liked him, or because he was young, but because addiction is so terrifying and painful a subject for me.

I've tried a few times already this morning to derive some sort of conclusion about this -- about access to treatment or the glorification of drugs in our culture, about collective responsibility for one another and personal responsibility for one's self -- but mostly I just think: this is just so sad. 

One one hand, the particulars of Hoffman's death -- the length of time he'd been in recovery, the heartbreaking state in which his body was found -- reinforce my feeling that, however apocalyptic my boss's response to my giving notice may be, I did the right thing to leave my job for one whose schedule, salary, and location now make it possible for me to put more time into recovering from my own problems. Eating disorders are no heroin addiction, but they are potentially fatal, and having both lived with and been a high-functioning addict, I know how tempting it is to just deal with your problem (or not) privately, rather than rocking the boat by pointing out that things are still pretty fucking far from okay.

But it just brings me back to the sadness of someone taking his son to Knicks games and preparing for the third Hunger Games movie and generally keeping it moving, while having this secret thing, this incredible personal loss -- because the feeling when you were recovered, and then are not, is itself devastating -- and not feeling like he could call time out and ask for help.

It is so incredibly sad, because now, of course, no one's thinking, but now's a shitty time for more rehab, these movies have to come out. If you went up to any but the most morally bankrupt of us, that person would say: fuck the Hunger Games, go get the help you need. But in day-to-day life, when a person still could be getting help, we don't have a lot of patience for that person interrupting our goings-on with his messy, intractable problems, especially when the problem is addiction and the person in question has been through this before, often publicly, and already got help, for Chrissakes.

It's so sad, and life is so short and guarantees of any kind so absent, and really, you just need to be loving, as loving as possible, all the time. To set aside what is trivial -- the person's choices that you don't like, that Huffpo article you were reading or bonus you were earning before they got in the way with their humanity and need -- before a crisis rips those things from your hands.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

that's, like, a life-changing amount of money for normal people

So I am going to preface this by saying that the job to which I am referring is part of a cohort and I was only informed last night because I've been hounding the same woman all week and she took pity on me -- if you are reading this and also applied, they haven't announced any of their decisions yet. 

But I -- after a truly appalling assemblage of shitty behavior at work, beginning with "asking" my boss to leave our meeting early (a meeting about camps, which I do not run, and which involved group "feedback" on my work last summer, which I do not want) and ending with straight-up telling a group of eleven year olds that they will never accomplish their dreams if they cannot be bothered with understanding fractions -- got a call around five o'clock yesterday confirming that I have managed to obtain a nursing job. I attribute this to, in the following order: the apparently random scatterplot of God's blessings; my husband's pulling, dark-horse-like, into the prayer zone, while I just kind of vaguely gestured at God like, whatever, Dude, I give up; the amazing nurses who helped me get here through myriad study groups, teff cookies, textings-off-the-ledge, and favors of various kinds.

Of course, taking this job entails me leaving my other job, which entails what feels like a giant eff you to everyone, because essentially: here's what I want and here I am, doing it, and not doing what might be better for you.

One advantage about the constant barrage of shame and guilt with which I live is that the episodes in which I actually screw someone over -- the ones I know about, anyway -- are few and far between. I really try to ascertain the right thing to do - what will be best for everyone, not just me -- and to do that thing, even if I want to do something else. The areas in which I am comfortable putting myself first mostly involve things that I feel strongly have no real effect on others. For example, if you tell me I am inconveniencing or hurting you by not doing what you think I should with my hair or body or life, I'm pretty good at pretending you're telling very funny jokes, to record in my diary, because why would you think my body was your problem?

If, however, my decision is legitimately going to screw things up for you, it's much harder for me to do what's best for me in the face of its impact on you, because I know I can live with disappoint, so I need to do so, because what if you can't?  And as a consequence of this, I've developed an extremely manipulative coping mechanism in which I do what I "should", with the understanding that I'll suck it up, but then do violent and damaging things to my body in an effort to communicate how actually not okay I am with this. I am a grown-up; I'm not a grown up.

But sometimes grown-ups have a third option in which they neither sacrifice what they want or lunch a savage brat-attack on their body over that sacrifice. Sometimes, it can be someone else's turn to deal with not getting what they want.

From the mouth of no lesser man than my incomparable father: my choices are obvious and mine to make. You can do whatever you want, if you can live with it. And after literally years of working for exactly this thing, I'd be a foolish crazy fool not to find a way to live with it.