On Meaning, Successfully

We’ve all come out of the last year changed in one way or another. Perhaps it’s a growing distaste for the general public or the government; perhaps it’s a newfound appreciation for solitude; perhaps it’s the realization that so much of our previous lives required unnecessary performativity in order to maintain our social and professional standing.

I’d like to pretend that we as a collective society leaned into grace and tolerance, kindness and caring, community and understanding, but that’s a farce about which I can’t even pretend to suspend my disbelief, and you should know by now that I’m prone to idealistic fantasizing, so this has been quite the letdown. Faith in humanity reduced. Quite significantly.

I quit my job three weeks before the pandemic started. I had to – the stress was slowly killing me. (I’ll save the juicy bits for my forthcoming post about the treatment of women in the healthcare system, something you likely already know about but need to hear more about.)

After leaving my job, I slept for a week, and decided to submit my graduate school application for a master’s in HR and started applying for jobs. Suddenly, the world ground to a “two-week” halt.

I have a wide range of skills, among them, legal work and nannying. I am nothing if not an excellent drafter of estate planning documents (I have a surprising ability to pay attention to detail, when necessary) and am a fantastic nurturer of young minds. I ended up throwing out my vision for the future (temporarily?), and embraced the new normal of slogging through an empty city (I will say, the lack of traffic during the initial shutdown was nothing short of amazing) to wrangle a resistant, frustrated child through the beginning (and eventual middle and hopeful end) of remote learning. At one point, I ran into my old boss at the grocery store, and she reached out to see if I could pick up some extra legal work since her assistant had to quit to take care of her own school-aged children.

It was an odd experience for me. While everyone else was cooped up at home learning how to bake sourdough bread and having Zoom happy hours, I was working four jobs, scrambling to make ends meet after the world of possibilities as I knew it had shuttered indefinitely. Babysitting, legal work, book editing, and decorating cakes. It became a mind-numbing time, not because I hated the work, but because it was always work and there was never quite enough time for anything. Everything felt dark and slow.

I know that as adult humans, we’ve all developed the capacity to entertain ourselves with a variety of distractions, both healthy and not, but for the children, it was a very disconcerting time. My now 11 year old had just switched schools, and the sudden shift to remote learning was difficult in an already difficult time. She was angry, upset, and scared, and those are all big emotions that are hard to name, and even harder to regulate.

The rules changed constantly, and even though adult me knows that change is the only constant, I still struggle with it, so I can only imagine what the constant state of uncertainty felt like for her. I’m used to being disappointed, but she has yet to learn that the world will never stop letting you down.

My experience with school was that everything just came to me. I know that’s not the normal experience for everyone. Her teacher was not the best remote learning teacher (and I’m not here to cast any sort of judgement, I can’t imagine what that massive switch was like for teachers) – she checked out. There were no lessons, just assignments. The curriculum was already new and different to my kiddo, so not having lessons left her untethered and free-floating, lost in an unfathomable abyss.

I tried to make it fun. I tried to show up for her. I tried to learn new math and teach her old math. I tried to make jokes. I tried to be realistic. I tried to be stern. It was horrible. Every day stretched on, the procrastination and the panic and the insecurity of not knowing built with each passing hour.

We took trampoline breaks. I had stopped going to the gym, obviously, and was grateful for the opportunity to develop what I called “trampoline legs.” She taught me how to do a front handspring – we practiced for hours, laughing at each horrible fall and celebrating the almosts – almost landed it, almost kept that handstand for 5 seconds, almost fell out of the mesh safety net.

We would lay on our backs on the trampoline, watching the clouds. I’ve long been a believer in staring at the sky to ground yourself. I also believe that the process of trying to discern shapes from an ever-shifting medium leads to a creative, flexible approach to thinking through scenarios. It’s a way to teach larger lessons without actually imparting them.

We took walks. We went on bike and scooter rides. (Turns out, I’ve still got it — I can still do little hops on a Razor scooter — which wildly impressed another of my former nanny kids.) Hilariously, we were going to get cupcakes one day, and I was on the scooter and everyone else was on bikes. Three teenage boys scooted past me on those Lime electric scooters and yelled, “Nice scooter, pussy!” at me. I was taken aback. I yelled back, “Why don’t you come say that to my face?” I fully intended to get them in front of me, have them realize I’m an adult, and then threaten to tell their parents and tell them to mind their manners, but they rode off into the afternoon, unabashed and full of adolescent hubris. We had a good laugh about that, and every time I find myself on a scooter, I think to myself, “Nice scooter, pussy!”

We had picnics. We built forts. We went to my house to sit in the hammock and break the monotony. We facetimed everyone we knew. We exhausted every game we had. We fought. I got so sick of dolls and dress up and started trying to get creative with the storylines – sometimes we were secret spies, sometimes we were business owners, sometimes we were graduate students.

In the middle of it all, George Floyd was killed by police in Minneapolis. My child found out about it from a neighbor. Breonna Taylor’s face filled social media. My child knew, and she was terrified. The unrest was growing. I did not protest, although I wanted to. I couldn’t – not with the fear of catching COVID, because I couldn’t afford to take two weeks off of work, and I felt that showing up for my child was more important in that moment. I watched it unfold. I watched her watch it unfold.

One day, we were driving and we passed an abandoned 7-11 with “Fuck the police” painted across the plywood. She said, “Katie, did you see that?” and I said that I hadn’t and asked her to elaborate. She told me, and I told her that those words were being spray-painted around the world because a lot of people were incredibly upset about what was happening.

We had one of those long car talks that day. I pulled up outside her house, and we sat in the car for half an hour. She’d just learned all the curse words, and in the middle of our conversation, she said, “Katie, can I say something?” and I said, of course, always. She said, “This is bullshit.” I looked at her, and I said, “No, this is fucking bullshit.” Her eyes got wide. I went off – my mom instincts and my rage came together in that moment. I looked her in the eyes and told her that I should not be having to have this conversation with a child. I told her that no child should live in fear of other people because of their skin color and that it’s not okay or acceptable. I told her that I will do everything in my power to protect her, to keep her safe, and to put my body in front of her or any child at any point in time. I told her that it was my job as a white person to show up and speak up, and promised her that I would never lie to her, and that I would always work to make her feel seen and safe. We talked about what it feels like to feel scared and afraid and different. We talked about everything. I tend to get intense when I’m in that frame of mind (or always), and after we took a breath, I checked in with her to see how she was feeling. She told me that she’d been feeling really scared, but that she felt a lot better after we talked. I promised her that I would always be there to listen to her and that I would always be there to stand up for her in the world.

Last summer, I was reminded about my purpose as a human. I’ve hated everything for so long, been dejected and disconnected, and generally free-floating into that mysterious abyss of uncertainty. Watching “my” child struggle to make sense of the insanity made me more determined than ever to show up every single day and to give her hope and consistency.

We survived the summer. We survived Mondays of remote learning. (I was doing more full-time legal work by that point, so I only had her one day a week once she started school.) She joined a book club at school and couldn’t wait to tell me all about it. Her eyes lit up. She was finally settling in and feeling secure, and seeing that change in her brought about a sense of relief I hadn’t known I’d needed.

On my birthday, her mom texted me to tell me that they’d run out of children’s pain relief and she’d had to take a pill, but she assured her mom that I’d already taught her how to take them. (I have no recollection of this, but it sounds like something I’d do – I always try to weave in the little things so that she’s ready for the world. Potato peeling lessons, knife skills, skincare, lady stuff, relationships, knowing your worth, etc. I casually drop mentions here and there in the hopes that someday, it’ll all come together in an innate sense of knowing how to be in the world.) Her mom thanked me for all of the lessons that I teach her, tangible and intangible. My heart swelled.

I was at the airport waiting to fly to Chicago recently, and she called me. We hadn’t seen each other in a while, and she was calling to tell me she missed me. While we were catching up, she told me about solving problems and how there’s always a way, but sometimes it just takes longer to see. That’s a hundred and twelve percent from me, and I know I’m bragging here, but I feel like the most accomplished woman in the world. Watching her find her way and find herself has brought so much meaning to my life, in a way that she’ll never understand. She’s been such a gift to me.

I’ve recently had several conversations about worth. Success is generally defined as the ability to amass capital, the climbing of the invisible ladder that tethers us to capitalism, the obtaining of expensive goods and the ability to utilize expensive services. I have never subscribed to this, although I would really like to breathe at some point. I have always found worth from experiences such as this past year, as arduous as it was at times.

I was talking to a friend recently – the conversation began with the ominous question, “Why do you hate capitalism?” – about this. I told him I’m not any less intelligent than he is, but I’ve always had a disdain for certain things and it’s prevented me from “succeeding” in some areas. I argued that my worth in this world is measured by the ripples I put out into it, and in that, helping to shape a child’s perception of the world is my greatest accomplishment. It’s not quantifiable, it’s intangible, and yet it’s still incredibly real. I matter to that child. She trusts me. She listens to me. She feels safe with me. We’ve grown together.

My intention for my life has always been to love madly. To love wildly and freely and openly. And while I have allowed the bits of jaded bitterness to swallow the edges of my soul at times, it is experiences like this that keep that bright light at my core burning. Life is best when shared with others. Life is best when you are connected and giving. Life is best when you’re aligned with that purpose, and seeing the fruits of your labor bloom in front of you is the most rewarding experience. That is success.

On Cowardice, Dazzingly

Because I haven’t been able to write anything in a while (I keep starting and stopping, but mostly just not starting at all), here’s a draft pulled from the archives – this one is from early 2019. I also haven’t checked the hyperlinks. I have no idea as to what they refer; I have no idea if they work. Hope you’re all well.

***

After a particularly frustrating romantic situation ensued early last fall, I found myself explaining to my therapist how I’d written an email response to a man I’d been dating, who had, unexpectedly, cut off contact after sending a rather vague email ostensibly laying the groundwork for a future conversation, to which I’d crafted a detailed and thorough response, expecting it to assist with furthering the conversation when we got around to it. (Of course, to no one’s surprise, that conversation never came.)

As I was fretfully recounting the contents of my response, concerned I’d misstated something in my communication, my therapist began to get angry. I, of course, assumed that I had done something wrong, as is my usual first inclination when I sense a change in mood of someone I’m near. (Being a mostly empathic human being with an interestingly inconsistent emotional upbringing can be rather challenging as messages are often sharply internalized and distributed incorrectly, pointing fingers at myself first.)

Her eyes blazed with fury as she launched into one of the most passionate tirades I’ve witnessed from her. (Have I mentioned that I love this woman? I have been so fortunate to knock it out of the park with both of the therapists I’ve had in my life, and for that, I am eternally grateful.) This, she said, is not a problem only you face. This is a gendered issue. She continued, saying that she’s found herself writing these emails; that her friends have; that she knows not a single woman who hasn’t found themselves in this position: justifying themselves to men.

(For the purposes of this post, please allow for sweeping generalizations rooted in significant societal structures and do not forget that I am fully aware that there are exceptions to everything I’m about to attempt to lay out as undeniable facts.)

It’s more than just long-winded text responses that go ignored. It’s so much more. I forget her exact words, but in summary, it’s that women feel compelled to “dazzle” men. We must be dazzling in order to attract and keep their attention, and when something goes awry, we feel that it must be that we haven’t been dazzling enough. It becomes about us, rather than them. It becomes that we have failed to be bright and sparkly enough, and that it is us who must work on who we are and our approaches. It is that we haven’t done enough, or we’ve done too much, or we just aren’t right. The burden becomes ours. We are not met halfway; there is often no sense of compromise or communication of expectations. It simply is that we, somehow, weren’t enough. And thus, we then struggle to justify everything about us: our behavior, our appearance, our approaches, our reasoning for being the way that we are.

(This article in Jezebel discusses some of my feelings about the situation.)

I was stunned. I had spent many hours crafting an email that I hoped would provide this man insight into who I am as a person, by way of explaining who and how I am. Even as I sat there, with my initial inclination being to argue that of course I wasn’t justifying myself to dazzle a man, the realization settled over me, followed by a sense of moderate frustration.

She was right. I began to justify my actions to her, and she stopped me. It’s funny how now, I am aware of my own justifications, and how often I use them in all facets of my life.

And today, I’m irked again. The dude reached out, after 3 months of silence, and I, being the compassionate idiot that I am, accepted his invitation to lunch, allowed him an apology accompanied by crocodile tears and his own assertion that it had been cowardice that had prompted his silence. But he swore he thought about me every day. I responded: clearly not enough to email me back.

Oh, good. It’s like the dating equivalent of thoughts and prayers. “I may have completely disappeared from your life with no explanation and caused you anxiety and emotional upset, but at least I thought about you. So I’m a decent human being.”

Cowardice is rampant among us all these days. The internet and other means of indirect communication has allowed us to imagine that we are insulated and isolated from having to face the consequences of our own actions. And the wide availability of potential partners that you can meet without having to face the complications of mutual friends only widens the possibility for bad behavior.

I’ve been ghosted twice in my life. The first was after a brief fling with a musician. The second was with the man described above. Both of these stung because of the conversational connections we’d developed and the joy of thoughts unfurling in my brain. They were both quick-witted and funny, and seemed to embrace my irreverent self. And yet, they both evaporated, quickly, unexpectedly, and without explanation.

The musician, in his haste, neglected the fact that we have mutual friends. Thus, the unattached ghosting was ill-advised. And so, I kept his family. Not spitefully or intentionally, but because I love them. One day, last summer, I was in the car with his niece and nephew, whom I babysit with some regularity. From the backseat, I heard, “KatieBarry (they always call me KatieBarry, one word), why did you break up with our uncle?” I answered honestly that one day he stopped calling and I never knew why. And that’s when it happened – the heart-melting-est moment of my life thus far. The little boy piped up, “But KatieBarry, it’s okay; you got to keep us.” My heart broke into a thousand beautiful glittering pieces in that moment, such was the love I felt for them.

[2020 Edit:  I later received an apology. It’s curious how healing it can feel to have someone honestly apologize and explain their actions. I am so grateful. I love and support all journeys of growth. It’s helpful for my own journey, too, to have the chance to explore my feelings of abandonment, my own ways of creating and assuming, my own understanding of connection in this world.]

So as I write this, I’m thinking back on another stinging comment I received some years ago, from the man who wished me to change myself pretty thoroughly to suit him. “I love who you are but not how you are.”

I get it, but I think I disagree with the underlying concept of that statement. I am the sum of my parts. I am both who and how I am. They are mutually exclusive, to a certain extent. I get the counterargument you’re likely formulating now – such that patterns of behavior might be subject to change but core is unalterable. And perhaps the counterargument is correct. But perhaps not.

We are exactly who we are in any given moment, and the goal is not to love an idealized version of another human being. The goal is to accept that human being and love them for the things that are fantastic and in spite of the things that make them human. In that respect, and in the present, the who and the how are intertwined because both states are existing simultaneously. How I am may be subject to change, but cannot be extricated from the current state of identity, and that’s the who/how combination being presented by anyone at any given point. Hence, the cautions against falling in love with potential.

This is not a digression, but rather, the point of the whole thing.

I don’t believe in dazzling. I am wholly myself, and I am blessed with the chameleon-like ability to discuss nearly anything with anyone. I clean up nicely, I look good at galas, and am happiest at home in pajamas on the couch. I am intense from the beginning; I am not going to spend 8 dates with you pretending to be this perfectly pulled-together woman. You will get me, wholly me, but also a wide diverse array of what constitutes me. And look, here I am, justifying.

So, I think the rooted indignation I’m feeling about this whole cowardice/ghosting/justifying thing is at least two-fold. The first fold is that I know who I am, and I get insanely bothered when people pass judgment without having the full context of what comprises the definition of me as a human. Don’t make a series of assumptions based on a small data set. It’s a law of legitimate science and it should be in law in all things. The smaller the data set, the more likely it is that there are variables still yet undiscovered, unconsidered, as yet unknown.

The second is that people who won’t face difficult conversations are cowards. [2020 Edit: I’m currently avoiding having a difficult conversation – not of a romantic nature – and I’m terrified, so my previous statement is landing and I mostly completely disagree with it. I should modify it to read: “The second is that people who won’t face difficult conversations in dating/relationships and instead choose to just abandon the situation while knowing that it’s causing distress for the other party are cowards, even if they’ve got mitigating circumstances like significant emotional baggage themselves.” And yet, we are all human, fallible, fragile creatures. How can we expect so little and so much at the same time from others? I imagine it’s because we should all expect so little and so much of ourselves, too: curiosity, compassion, understanding, and acceptance. But all of that comes from being able to be honest and open with ourselves. It is perhaps that vulnerability has become nearly impossible to attain authentically.)

And perhaps one more fold is that it’s frustrating to expect a certain amount of honesty, or to provide compassion and understanding and openness only to be met with bullshit behavior. It’s downright disrespectful.

And lastly, co-mingled with the honestly/openness issue, there’s the issue of omission/the unsaid. Assumptions are problematic, we all know that, and while honest communication can be difficult, I also think that at times, there’s a massive gap in the experiences between the parties that creates chaos.

There was a time when I was flying to another city in the Midwest (tulip tress! old stone everywhere! amazing plants! barbecue!) to visit a love interest with whom I saw a future. There was so much unsaid between us, no clear definition of intention, and now, after some reflection, I believe it was a mishap caused by me going on a date in Denver with someone who was ill-advised and particularly unpalatable that led my love interest to inform me that he would never feel safe with me.

I was gutted. I had intended nothing by the date, had hoped that we would eventually have the “what are we doing here?” conversation (and thinking back now, perhaps I subconsciously mentioned the date and the weirdness therein in order to passive aggressively prompt that conversation instead of handling it like a mature adult; I don’t know, it’s all lost to time), and rather than keeping a friend by concluding together that we should not pursue a romantic relationship that was going to be difficult to navigate or gaining a partner, all was lost. Even now, I wonder how my experience of that time differs from his. I wonder how I could have communicated better and been more open and honest. I guess it’s a point of continual growth for us all. Introspection is important.

Life is hard. Life is scary, and it’s complicated. You don’t have to fall in love with everyone you meet. You don’t have to reciprocate feelings. You don’t have to do anything, except that you do. It should be well understood that undertaking any attempts at romantic entanglement, be they purely coital, purely intellectual, or anything in between, comes with the assumption that both parties are expected to be clear, to communicate, and to act with respect for the feelings of the other person.

Perhaps you aren’t feeling a romantic connection, or are irked by some behavior that has presented itself. You don’t just run away and dodge it. Have a conversation. How much is lost in the unsaid in-betweens of assumption and experience? Far too much. You just say, Hey, it’s not you, it’s me. (That’s a lie, but at least it’s closure commentary that will give the other person some peace.) You are obligated to clearly conclude the relationship, even if it’s an undefined relationship. It’s compassionate and intentional. It shows integrity.

[2020 Edit: You can see why this post remained a draft – it wandered on and was left unfinished. I have skimmed it and have nothing to add. I don’t know how I’d sum it up. I know that when I began it, I had some grandiose point, and now it’s petered out. Perhaps it’s best left unfinished, as I am thinking that all of this was more a rumination upon the state of things than it was to draw some final conclusion. Life is messy. Love is messy. Communication is messy. We’re all out there trying to do the best that we can without losing too much.]

On This Dying Planet, Sadly

Growing up, we heard all about the 3 Rs: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. I was born in the late 80s, and the better part of my formative years was spent existing in the shadow of excess in all things – plastic packaging, disposable razors, wrappers, shrink wrap, Ziploc bags, fruit snacks, disposable cameras, the yearning for Lunchables ….the list goes on. My parents yellowing stash of thick Tupperware accrued sometime around 1984 seemed pointless and outdated, because why would we need it when everything came in its own to-go container? Think of all of those balloons, butterfly clips, snap bracelets, jelly shoes, sand toys, and containers of Play-Doh we used to use languishing in some landfill now.  Consumerism was at its height – everything was shiny and new and ultimately, so conveniently disposable. The consumption models that began with the advent of mass production have only multiplied, ultimately modifying the way we view tangible goods and commodities such that we’ve been willfully blinded to our gross overindulgence and reclassification of necessity.

We saw the campaigns pushing recycling. Denver started a recycling program when I was a kid, and we put all of our eco-knowledge into separating trash from recycle.  We learned about the deforestation of the rain forest; we learned that the Earth was warming; we watched Fern Gully and some of us (me) had nightmares; we were concerned about CFCs in the atmosphere, global warming, and the ozone hole.

I guess in my idealistic young mind, I assumed that all humans would realize we had a collective problem, and we’d fix it. Globalization couldn’t be all bad, right? Everyone on Earth would have to work together to find a solution, and of course we would, because it’s our home. The plan was simple: everyone just recycle, plant more trees, not use so much hairspray, and the Earth would be okay again.

In college, were secretly convinced that Chicago didn’t actually have a recycling program and that the blue bags distinguishing recycling that got hauled away with the rest of the trash just got dumped with everything else. Then came GrubHub, that magical food delivery mechanism, and with it, Stryofoam containers, greasy pizza boxes, and plastic cutlery, wrapped individually in plastic bags.

Composting was for the real hippies. That was some real next-level shit. Recycling would be enough. Companies would lower their emissions; solar energy would not require the pollution-intense process of some really dirty mining; no future President would increase massive tariffs on the solar industry, effectively crippling its affordability and growth, nor would they ever consider rolling back laws intended to benefit the environment, and thus, the population as a whole, even at slight increases in costs for companies who increase profits by disposing of waste in horrible ways. The corrupt capitalist ideal of greed would never leach deep into the souls of those in power, like an oil leak in the Gulf we underestimated and now can’t stop. We would never pull out of a non-binding climate accord, just to be dicks on the world stage.

Or so I thought.

I cringe now to survey my home and think of all of the products and packaging contained therein. We recycle avidly, which is frustrating because recycling pick up is only once every two weeks and our bin is always full. Our trash can is never full, but when it is, it’s full of trash bags with plastic packaging, cat litter, and soiled things that can’t be recycled. I’m ashamed to admit we’re still using cleaning wipes, those convenient non-recyclable, non-biodegradable bastards. (We’re on the way to baking soda and vinegar, though, and I swear, my bathtub has never been happier. We also have ridiculously hard water, so I use vinegar on everything to decalcify and degrime.)

I’m in the process of a massive attempt at overhauling our lives and the ways in which we create waste. I’m a huge fan of Costco, because who isn’t, but I’m also starting to be more mindful of the ridiculous amount of packaging surrounding nearly every product. Of course, it’s not just Costco. It’s everything. From the moment you’ve clicked on the Submit Order button on your Amazon account, you’re creating a waste trail. Someone has to use a car to get to work to get paid a terrible wage to work in terrible conditions to grab your order, put in more packaging, and then label it and ship it to you, utilizing resources like more gas, more fossil fuels, etc.

I once got stoned in high school and cried because I was stocking the disposable plastic spoons at the Dairy Queen where I worked, and when I dropped one on the floor, the reality of the fact that it was wasted landed in a very real way. This spoon had been mined, manufactured, processed, purchased, shipped, and intended for single-use ice cream consumption by the end consumer. And now, because I’d dropped it, it was useless, wasted. Pointless. I felt so careless in that moment.  I should find the ridiculous blog I wrote about it that night; the memory of that feeling has stayed with me.

But now imagine that extension of careless waste that’s extended my entire life, and yours. Think of how, if you had to stack all the trash you’ve ever created in your backyard, it would grow endlessly. It’s like the rise of cyber-bullying, in a very far-reaching simile, because without having to see the effects of your actions (or inaction), you are not faced with the consequences. Your trash gets magically whisked away every week and it’s not your problem anymore, because it’s out of sight and out of your mind. Much like when you call someone names on the internet. You don’t have to watch them cry or see their self-esteem crumble, because you’re safe in the confines of your own home, desperately trying to make yourself feel better about your sad life by putting others down. (I should clarify, this was not a great metaphor and I definitely don’t feel so vindictive about my trash leaving as I imagine internet bullies feel about internet bullying.)

Oh, and even if you recycle your plastics, which we do to the fullest extent possible (this includes remembering your reusable bags, not buying bagged salads anymore because we can at least recycle the plastic boxes the lettuce/spinach come in, opting for non-packaged fruits and veggies, etc.), you’re still not helping anything, because plastic can only be recycled a few times before it’s useless. Even recycled plastics require the addition of new virgin plastic to ensure that the structure is sound. Hopefully this comes as no surprise, but some plastics are not recyclable at all.

Glass and metal are the only materials that can be recycled over and over without losing quality, meaning that we can keep recycling aluminum cans, glass bottles, and whatever else in an endless loop. That’s heartening, at least. I’ve been trying to choose more glass (even though I’m clumsy as all hell and it’s led to the increase in broken things around our home). I still remember when my little brother and I thought that collecting cans was the ticket to young wealth, because King Soopers/Kroger would pay you like 5c/can. Or maybe it was by weight….because they’re light. We imagined we’d be rich. Alas, that did not pan out.

It starts little. No one will be perfect at living without creating waste, and if they are, I’m sure you’ll hear about it like running into a friend who’s just become a vegan or taken up Crossfit. But honestly, if you can do this, you’ve probably earned some serious bragging rights, so preach!

I read a great thing recently about how it doesn’t take everyone being perfect; it takes all of us doing it imperfectly. Change doesn’t happen overnight; it begins with that single decision to start being more conscious about how we consume, create, and dispose of products. Even though we’ve been blindly recycling for years, we can all do better. So much better.

Glass snapware containers replace our plastic ones; but our existing plastic ones, we keep and use, washing them and ensuring that they don’t molder in the refrigerator (I’m guilty of throwing away cheap plastic containers in my life due to this situation…). Glass jars line our shelves. Most of our dishes were purchased secondhand or gifted. The Corelle dishes from my youth now live in my house; the china set I purchased at the flea market nearly a decade ago is still in (beloved) rotation. We have reusable dishes and cups to take camping. I’ve always loved a good thrift store trip, and over the past few years, I have definitely cut back on the amount of clothing I purchase everywhere.

We’re working on phasing out paper towels. We’ve got an abundance of dish towels (no microfiber cloths – those also have plastic in them), and we’ll be asking my mom to help us sew some Swiffer-sized cloth things so we can re-purpose our Swiffer and stop using the non-recyclable cloths. (She’ll read this before I actually tell her about it, so Mom, let’s discuss how to best go about this. I’m imagining a flat envelope-ish fabric mop situation.)

We’re attempting to compost, which we’re doing a terrible job of, so that’s at the forefront of our plan to try to live more intentionally. (Hey, Denver people, you can get a compost bin for like $10/month and you should do that. Aurora, I have a friend who started a compost business and will come pick your stuff up. Unfortunately, Englewood doesn’t offer municipal trash service, so the company I use doesn’t offer composting, which is why I’m open to any and all suggestions for happy composting. I need worms.)

I’m obsessed with Nalgene water bottles, despite the fact that my very spatially-unaware self struggles with not spilling their contents all over me at least once a day, and we have a rotating set that we use instead of other water containers. We’re making our coffee and tea at home, and we carry those with us in reusable metal and plastic containers, saving us money on not buying coffee, too. We’ve got reusable straws. I keep a spoon in my backpack at all times (which might be why I’m constantly complaining that we don’t have enough spoons in the house).

We’ve switched to bar shampoo instead of bottles, and I am still looking into bar conditioners, although I have yet to find one that’s decent. Suggestions are welcomed! I’m also using apple cider vinegar (diluted) to rinse my hair on non-shampoo days. We’ll be switching to toothpaste tablets as soon as we’re done with the tubes we have now.

Next year, we’ll try to grow more of our own produce. This year, we have managed to keep all the plants we bought alive (definitely not thriving, but alive), and we currently have a whopping 2 tomatoes growing. I’m excited. We’ve got a push mower, too, to cut back on gas usage and increase caloric output and cardio benefits while lawn mowing.

Biking to work, carpooling, reducing the amount of trips we take, not ever taking a cruise, limiting air travel, buying local, not getting new electronics just because, not having air conditioning, washing clothes on cold, not using the dryer, fewer soaps and detergents, proper disposal of prescription medication, signing up for e-billing instead of paper bills, not plastic packaged cushy toilet paper, making food instead of buying it pre-made, choosing to buy products that come in glass or metal or paper or without packaging, etc. Even the thought of procreating is terrifying – both for the sake of my hypothetical children and the sake of their impact on this planet.

Of course, this is not an exhaustive list – we’re working on it, and building it. We have an online list where we drop our ideas and we’re trying to see what other steps we can take to reduce energy consumption, decrease waste, and overall, be better to our home planet. We’re not even good at it yet, and I’ve been grateful to see the increased prevalence of articles about the state of the planet and it’s increasing my sense of urgency to stop thinking recycling is the answer, because it’s absolutely not. It’s not about the United States anymore – it’s about how we can’t just ship our plastics off to China and wash our hands clean of the havoc we wreak.

This year, I did middle school programming for the adoption camps I volunteer for (never again; middle schoolers are hormonal demons who travel in packs of angst and feed off each other’s energy), and as part of our service project, we cleaned up trash in a park and in the area where the camp was held. It was a ridiculously hot morning, and everyone was grumpy and angry, but all in all, we collected five bags of trash among roughly 15 kids.

We went camping in Wyoming last week, and hiked a few miles to this gorgeous waterfall, and on our way there and pack, we packed out a backpack’s worth of garbage, including dog poop (bagged but discarded behind a tree along the trail, not necessarily so someone could remember to pick it up on their way back) and a boot. A boot. I watched a child throw a plastic water bottle into a river, threw my hands on my hips, and said, “Well….” in a very patronizing way, and stood there until the parent finally noticed and made their child retrieve it. (Yeah, I’m that guy now.) You’ve intentionally sought out nature and you’re going to abuse it? How does that even compute?

Even though I know that I’m but a drop in the bucket, or a single boot in a river, I know that it is my duty as a citizen of this global community to do whatever I can to ensure that I protect our environment for our future, whatever that may look like. I also know that it’s not just on a personal consumption level, it’s about politics and legislation and corporations. It’s about global efforts to enact policies that reduce, reuse, re-purpose, and change the consumption models so that corporations are incentivized to reduce packaging, pollution, and overall waste in their sourcing, manufacturing, and product marketing. It’s about everything. It’s about the fear of the melting permafrost that’s not so permanently frozen. It’s about climate change and dwindling habitats and dying animals. It’s about giving up our comforts so that we can do better. Even though this is a frustrating way to end this post, it’s my hope that eventually, we can wake up, finally face the grim realization that we’re killing our home, and work hard to protect the remaining resources and life we have left, before it’s too late. (Which, of course, for so many environments, ecosystems, and species [maybe even us], it already is.)

 

On Salmon, Reluctantly

I’ve been mentoring a now-12 year old for a few years, and in that time, she’s become more my little sister than anything else.

We met through the adoption camps that I volunteer for, and her parents asked if I’d be willing to hang out with her and be a role model for her. (It’s interesting how sometimes the very notion that you are a role model for a child propels you forward, especially when you feel incredibly small.) So we began our journey to pseudo-sisterhood one winter day in 2015.

Flash forward to multiple family dinners. They are a very healthy family, and to me it seemed that every time I would go over, they’d be making salmon. Grilled salmon, baked salmon, salmon a million ways. My 12 year old would always balk at the salmon, and so, in the spirit of role modeling, I would choke down salmon the way she liked it: cracker, slathered in cream cheese, salmon. Actually, that’s a decent way to baby step into salmon consumption. Cream cheese is a beautiful thing.

Okay, I’d think to myself, you can do this. Salmon is healthy; it’s full of Omega-3s and whatever else you need. Eat it. Demonstrate curiosity and willingness to try new things.

So I kept eating salmon.

At a recent family dinner, I remarked that they’re always making salmon, and they told me that they thought salmon was my favorite. Achievement clearly unlocked, as I have been faking a love of salmon so well and for so long that they believed it. That’s why they made salmon every time.

We laughed, as I explained that I was trying to demonstrate good eating habits, and since then, our menu has differed significantly. The other night, we ate manicotti, as my 12 year old scraped off all of the sauce, leaving just cheese and noodles. (How one can appreciate anything without sauce, I cannot fathom; I clearly still have work to do here.)

And, proudly, a few weeks ago, I bought fresh salmon at Costco, slathered it in pesto, topped it with breadcrumbs and shredded cheese, baked it for 17 min and then broiled it carefully for 3 min to crisp up the crumbs, and, to my great surprise, I enjoyed the hell out of some salmon for the first time in my adventures in cooked fish.

I’ll have to send them the recipe. Or perhaps, I’ll just have to make it for them the next time we have family dinner.

On the Point Game, Linguistically

I have always loved language.

My mom tells me that even before I could talk, she would peek into my bedroom after nap time, to find me in my crib, holding a book (this was the 80s, and I wasn’t about to smother myself on a book, I’m assuming), turning the pages and babbling to myself in baby talk, but with the correct intonations as though I were telling the story.

I began writing my first (only?) novel at the age of 10, when I typed 50 pages of a story about a girl who finds a secret door under a bridge in her local park and gets transported back to ancient Egypt, where she must solve a mystery and save the world. One day, after much time spent researching so as to avoid any anachronistic insertions into my story, I decided that I hated it, and promptly deleted the file. My adult self would give nearly anything to read those 50 pages now, and I’m disappointed in small Katie for her abrupt and reckless decision making.

In high school, during my stint as a tortured poet (or the state of being that most of you would refer to as “being a teenager”), I wrote a few marvelous poems, and mostly garbage ones. One, which I disseminated to my entire AP English class, included the word “urethral.” I meant to say “ethereal” and to this day, I cringe when I think about it.

This brings me to a game that my friend Jacob and I created, and which really is the best game in existence: It’s called the Point Game. Every time you use a word incorrectly, but the meaning/intent is clear (or even if your word is used incorrectly and the meaning is completely unclear), you get a point.

Points are not good. You don’t want to be accumulating points. A point receiver can argue the point with the point giver, usually with no great success, and a point receiver can outright reject a point, but it doesn’t change the fact that they did in fact receive a point. It’s a lighthearted game with no real consequences or score. We enjoy ourselves and the resulting linguistic discussions immensely.

The best example of this is actually one of the things that brought about the Point Game. A drunk woman in a bar was angry at a man, and she shouted at him, “A diatribe of women will come after you!” Diatribe is defined as: “a forceful and bitter verbal attack against someone or something.” So, point.

I always call it James Joyce-ing, but I love to make up my own words and massage language and punctuation to suit my needs, and I respect anyone who can masterfully manipulate (or rather, renaissance) language to suit their intent.

The point game is also an excellent opportunity to evaluate your own use of language. Part of why I love working with kids is because they force me to critically think about my own perceptions of the world, and the hardest thing is when children ask you to explain an intangible concept, like luck, for example. But how many words do I use regularly that I don’t actually know what they mean? Sometimes, I’ve got a pretty good idea, so I just go for it, but it’s a nice reminder that you can (and will) be wrong or misinformed.

The point game is not about mocking poor use of language; it’s about learning and reaffirming your own abilities to understand the meanings of words. It’s all about learning how to renaissance words to effectively communicate your intended meaning, even if you’re not quite hitting the mark. Besides, it’s fun and it keeps you on your toes.

On “RBG,” Reverently

As a child, my most common Halloween costumes were either witch or Supreme Court Justice. Perhaps it’s because I had easy access to the black graduation robe my mom had because she was a teacher. Perhaps it’s because I did firmly believe that I was going to be the first female president of the United States.

I have loved Ruth Bader Ginsburg for a long time. When her popularity grew significantly after the spread of the “Notorious RBG” meme, I loved her even more. To see such an accomplished woman be so idolized felt joyous to someone who spent years looking up to strong women in law and government.

Chances are very low (if not non-existent) that I will be a Supreme Court Justice or the first female president, given that I never did follow through with the law school plan. However, I very much enjoyed curling up on the couch to watch the documentary “RBG.”

It’s full of beautiful moments of RBG’s relationship with her husband, something that I think we can aspire to, and it brought me to crying very happy tears. She’s tenacious, and her life’s work to further women’s rights is beyond inspiring. I can’t imagine what it must have been like to stare down the innumerable challenges she’s faced with grace and aplomb, and her interviews in the documentary are delightful.

Given her recent health challenges, I cannot even begin to explain how much her dedication to her work is personally motivating to me.

If you haven’t had a chance yet, I highly recommend that you put it on your list of things to see.

On this Poem, Lovingly

Before You Came

Faiz Ahmed Faiz, 1911 – 1984

 

Before you came,

things were as they should be:

the sky was the dead-end of sight,

the road was just a road, wine merely wine.

 

Now everything is like my heart,

a color at the edge of blood:

the grey of your absence, the color of poison, of thorns,

the gold when we meet, the season ablaze,

the yellow of autumn, the red of flowers, of flames,

and the black when you cover the earth

with the coal of dead fires.

 

And the sky, the road, the glass of wine?

The sky is a shirt wet with tears,

the road a vein about to break,

and the glass of wine a mirror in which

the sky, the road, the world keep changing.

 

Don’t leave now that you’re here—

Stay. So the world may become like itself again:

so the sky may be the sky,

the road a road,

and the glass of wine not a mirror, just a glass of wine.

On New Orleans, Belatedly

I’ve always wanted to go to New Orleans. My little brother – rather, younger brother, as my little brother towers over me at 6’4″ – is getting married, and I am now a bridesmaid (although I tried to explain I really didn’t need to be one), so I was invited along to the bachelorette party in New Orleans.

Now, I do love my brother’s fiancée quite a bit, but the thought of me, a Colorado woman whose very low maintenance beauty routine generally consists of “when’s the last time I wore makeup and where is it?”, traveling to a beautiful city with beautiful Dallas women who know how to curl their hair intimidated me immensely. However, I own a super sexy black dress, and I’m Katie Fucking Barry (sorry Mom, it’s a figure of speech), so I figured “I got this,” grabbed my makeup bag, stuffed it in a backpack with my laptop, and headed down there.

I spent the time waiting for the flight seated at a bar, chatting to an oil and gas intern who had recently relocated to NOLA and had been in Colorado for a conference. He was fresh out of college and seemed to enjoy his chosen industry, although did not express love for living in New Orleans. I spent the flight seated next to a very loud contractor who thanked every flight attendant for coming to work that day, as if they had any choice, and who proceeded to advise me on upcoming home remodel work. He was attending his sister’s book launch in New Orleans, and clearly had not been on many airplanes. I prayed he’d stop talking at some point, because he was so loud, but he was so enthusiastic and kind that I just let him continue, whispering back responses. We talked about books, and his pet bird, and wood floors. He promised he’d read American Gods.

I really do have the strangest but most wonderful conversations with people.

I arrived too late and exhausted (I had spoken at a conference for court reporters on cannabis and employment law, complete with a super amazing Jeopardy PowerPoint I made before flying to New Orleans) to meet up with the lady crew, so I curled up in a twin bed (note to self: never again) and fell asleep, after realizing that I’d left all of my jewelry and my toothbrush in Denver.

Shit.

I woke up in a strange house in a strange neighborhood, and immediately set off to procure dental hygiene products. Our Airbnb was in an interesting neighborhood. I’ve lived in Chicago, and in interesting parts of Cape Town, so I’m really not bothered by much. I strode into the nearest store, which was an oddly compiled bodega carrying everything from canned beans to beer to purses to free condoms to one tube of toothpaste.

Joy secured, I returned to my temporary home. The women were surprised I’d walked in the neighborhood alone. I  reminded them that daylight is a beautiful thing. This Airbnb, a remodeled shotgun house with a cute red front door, was full of weird gnat-like flies. Obviously, I wasn’t sure about the local insect game, so I withheld judgement until I realized that this is absolutely not normal. However, I made my peace with the flies after the first two hours of continuous aggravation. The showers were odd. It was a nice reminder to me that I should absolutely pay someone to do my tile work for me. They had done a decent job remodeling the place, complete with bright turquoise accent walls and exposed brick and newer appliances, but man, were they inept at tile work.

And I have to imagine that neither am I. So as my bathroom remodels get underway (ha, eventually?), I will have to remind myself that my DIY mindset does not extend to actual DIY practice. And I will have to bring in skilled assistance or risk being mocked mentally by anyone who ever uses my bathrooms.

We got ready to go to fancy brunch. However, immediately after brunch, we were headed to an alligator tour. (I have so many thoughts about this tour – we paid $105 each for this adventure, and I found similar ones on Groupon for $16….so I complained, but only mildly.) I donned overalls that my brother’s fiancée had brought for me. They looked great on her, but I was just swimming in them. At least they were comfortable! (I’m generally too long for one piece things, which is annoying. I guess they don’t make clothes with the long torso-ed in mind, and it ends up touching you in places you’d rather not.)

We made it down to brunch, two of us wearing overalls, one wearing obscenely short shorts, one wearing a vest made out of Bud Light boxes and held together with leopard print duct tape, and a fanny pack with a naked male belly button on it (as though it were an outcropping of exposed stomach), and attempted to enter the restaurant. The man guarding the door, I mean, the host, dressed in a suit and bowtie, looked us up and down and said, “None of this is going to work,” while he waved his pointed index finger back and forth, up and down.

So, banned because of the way that we were, we went next door (same freaking restaurant) and sidled up to the bar, where I ate delicious gumbo. (Rabbit, duck? Something gamey that I’m not usually keen on. But still enjoyed. Would eat again.)

Then, the alligator tour commenced. I’m a naturally curious person, and I love adventure, generally. I enjoy nature and I enjoy water, so this was bound to be a good time. We climbed into a giant SUV with a couple, and were carted off into the swamplands surrounding the city.

I am in love with trees. I have been in love with trees since spending most of my childhood in and around the apple tree in our backyard, and the trees in the South do not disappoint. (See also my obsession with tulip trees in Kansas City. Not trying to say that’s the South. Adding additional context for tree love.) They are both formidable yet graceful. They loom large above you, and I imagine I could happily build a cabin and live beneath one forever.

I had never been on an airboat before. These things are awesome. They glide over floating foliage, loudly, and gather speed. I held my arm out, as one should, feeling the wind on my exposed skin. I loved it.

We navigated through a larger water channel before turning into a smaller passage, and eventually arrived to float among some plants. The guide brought out marshmallows, hooked them onto a pole, and then we met our first alligator, who floated up next to the boat, eager for food.

A smaller alligator joined that one, and the two of them chased pieces of raw chicken and marshmallows while I peppered the guide with questions about the alligator market (which is not what it once was, despite their utility as a food source), alligator lifestyles and territorial habits, and their lifespan. Turns out, they’ll eat anything, they grow to about 17 feet, live for up to 70 years, and grow very slowly. They’re very territorial, and are left to fend for themselves immediately after birth. You used to be able to get about $5,000 for a decent sized gator – but now the going rate is roughly $500 for the same gator. Hunters are given tags based on the land that they own, and it’s a good thing for population control. Alligator skin isn’t as popular as it once was for outerwear, and as such, the industry has suffered. I do believe I ate a gator nugget in Florida once.

I also learned a lot about water and land ownership rights. Turns out, in Louisiana, you can own water as though it were land, where in other places, you cannot. (You generally buy land with bodies of water on it, but you do not have claim to said water other than by the deeding of water rights, which are generally shared amongst those whose land butts up again or includes that body of water.) I need to do some more research, and learn how to more effectively communicate my understanding of water rights, but from what I gather, there are different applications of water rights depending on the potential for usage of a given waterway, and your water rights extend roughly 6 inches below the surface of the water. (Again, this is not legal advice, and should in no way be construed as such. I was drinking alcoholic beverages and asking questions that I don’t know the guide was qualified to answer.)

I enjoyed the afternoon immensely, and it culminated in me holding a baby alligator! He was very squirmy, and clearly not in the mood to be manhandled by humans. But he was sweet, and I imagined he’d feel right at home in my bathtub with Carl for a brother. They could hunt mice and squirrels in my backyard, and I would build him a pond for summer relaxation.

We left the alligator tour and went and ate the best fried chicken I have ever eaten in my entire life. I love fried chicken. I would eat it all the time. And man, the sides. Sweet potatoes, collard greens, mac and cheese, beans, rice. Heaven. This is what my heaven buffet includes.

We went home, napped (very necessary), and then became beautiful for our evening adventures. It included Hurricanes at some famous bar, then somewhere else, then a club. By this point, I was ready to go home, but they refused to let me go alone and thus, I danced wearily for several hours, while holding onto a railing, until we could leave.

The next morning brought beignets and I was able to pick up a new set of tarot cards. My friend Madeline had gifted me some in high school, and I’ve since lost them. While I am in no way blessed with the ability to remember anything about the tarot, I do enjoy possession of said cards, and was happy to procure them. The voodoo shop was lovely, cluttered, and full of things I could have spent hours looking at.

We wandered until it was time to check into my hotel, and we all hauled ourselves and our stuff there to wait until it was time to go to the airport. As soon as they left, I  immediately put on the bathrobe (because in theory, bathrobes are amazing but who actually bothers to use them in real life?), and then sprawled out across the bed.

I ordered room service. Obvious mistake, but the exhaustion deadened my bones and my fear of committing some GrubHub faux pas in a hotel lobby loomed larger than it should have, so with that, an over-priced Caesar salad and turkey club were whisked to my room. I opened the door in my bathrobe, hoping that wasn’t too weird. But I would imagine they’ve seen worse?

The next morning, I had formulated somewhat of a plan, and took the streetcar to a cemetery. I am obsessed with graveyards. I find them to be beautiful places of quiet reflection, the immensity of life somehow compacted into tiny markers of who once was. I’ve often stared at gravestones, caught in my own head, thinking hard about what it is to live a full life and then be reduced to a few lines of text for future consideration. In New Orleans, due to the sea level situation, you can’t really be buried underground, as your grave would just come back up, rejected by the earth. So instead, you are buried above ground. This cemetery housed graves going back to the late 18th century, I believe, and I wandered and wondered until the heat of the day and the weight of laptop digging into my back signaled that it was time to depart.

I perused a local bookstore for about an hour. I could read forever. I have lost my gift of immediately knowing a book is worth reading by looking at it, overwhelmed by the offerings of language and stories. I selected two, finally, one, a memoir by a well-known blogger known as The Bloggess, because she’s magical and hilarious and I would happily support her by purchasing her book, and the other, because the story felt compelling. I also had one more book in my backpack, American Gods by Neil Gaiman, a man whose writing I adore. So now, with three times the books I had with me when I started this three-day adventure, I sat wearily and made a new plan.

I had a few hours. I was exhausted. I was sweaty. The air was thick. Since I’d just spent $30 on books, I didn’t want to Lyft anywhere and I wasn’t sure what else I needed to see; although I had a couple museums in mind, I did not have the time. So instead, I decided to take the city bus to the airport, figuring I could just curl up at a bar somewhere with a book. So that’s exactly what I did.

I am not the most adept at public transportation, nor am I the least, so I figured that even with my several hour window, I’d manage to arrive in time. One streetcar ride, to the end of the line (I got to ride past the Loyola New Orleans campus, so that was cool), two buses, and a half mile walk in between seemed not that daunting. I made friends with a woman at one of the bus stops. We talked for half an hour about everything from high cholesterol to Chicago and weather and fried chicken. She said the locals don’t love the fried chicken place I’d fallen in love with as much as they used to, and I agreed that once something gets too popular, its quality generally decreases. However, I swore I’d come back to sample more chicken offerings, and we laughed about the quality of fried chicken in Denver. When she left the bus, she waved at me and shouted for me to have a blessed day. I loved her.

I arrived at the airport, having lost more fluids to sweat than I ever have in my entire life, exhausted and content. I found a quiet bar, curled up, and brought out my book. After the couple next to me left, a large man sat down, and immediately began talking crazy. I gave him some insight into adoption, after he told me a completely rambling story about a niece that had been given up for adoption who had reached out to the family, but the family was not getting along and so they refused to give him her information, and this and that and everything. So, I directed him to where he might find additional resources for tracking her down and I assured him that knowing is important, and that meeting her might provide some important closure for his sister, her birth mother.

With no ability to create any sort of insightful conclusion, I conclude. Alas, that was New Orleans. I’ll go back; it was beautiful.

On Kavanaugh, Rapily

Oh, surprise, surprise, rape blog again.

 

I hate this.

I hate what is going on right now as far as the current Supreme Court nominee, Kavanaugh. It’s a fucking hard Kava-no from me.

I haven’t eaten in two days. I have ordered food, looked at food, and taken two bites of food.

Politics is real. What action and inaction politicians are taking has a very real affect. It affects all of us. Especially some of us. Especially in certain situations. This is one of them. I hate the word “triggered” – but here’s the deal – it’s real. It’s a real thing. And it happens when you least expect it, and usually welcome it the least. Now is one of those times.

When I was 12, my father had taken us – and I do mean that – and we were in Eagle, Colorado, staying with some people we’d met at City Market. We were on our way to the movies that night, and I was sitting in the front seat of a car with bench seating. I was in the middle, because I was small. During the drive, the man, a stranger, put his large hand on my small thigh, and left it there. I froze. I stayed frozen. I finally moved to pick up his hand and remove it from my thigh, placing it on his own. That night, I stayed awake, with my back to the wall of the hard bed I was sleeping in, waiting for him to come. He didn’t come. I told no one. Later, when my dad wanted to go back to visit this family, I fought and cried and begged and fought. I got in trouble. I told no one the real reason I didn’t want to go.  I told no one until I was in therapy after college. I told my therapist. Then I told my mom.

When I was 18, I was drugged, along with my pregnant roommate, at a party. I felt the feelings of thoughts escaping my mind, and stared out of a window. I got her home, somehow, safely, and fed her milk while she was throwing up. My muscles didn’t work, and I barely made it to my bed. Bu I somehow managed to save us that night.

When I was 24, I went on three dates with a pilot. I told him, on our first date, that I didn’t want to have sex. We kissed, and everything progressed, and I protested, but when it happened, I froze. I didn’t say no. I remember laying there, in the midst of it, knowing it was a no but not knowing how to get out of it. I stayed silent and it was over.

When I was 24, I was drugged and assaulted my a co-worker. If you have ever read this blog you are familiar with that story. I woke up 12 hours later, naked and damp, on the sixth floor of the Hilton in Midtown, New York City. He was waiting, as I was throwing up in a bathroom, and when he spoke to me he asked me what I remembered. I said nothing. He said, “We just had some fun.” I will never forget the Bud Light bottle on the TV stand. I will never forget that shower, or the rest of the day, or the rest of the rest of my life. That day, I told no one. I later told my bosses. Three months later, I had an emotional breakdown. It wasn’t until way after that that I told my mom. I tell my mom everything. She knew. But she didn’t know exactly what. It was that. The weekend I got home from New York, I cried for 8 hours straight. I sliced my thighs with a  wine opener so I could feel something and stop crying. No one knows that. My brother came to my door that Saturday while I was completely immobilized by tears, oblivious to what was going on, because no one knew, and told me he wasn’t sure what was going on, but that he loved me.

When I was 27, I was drugged at a party. My then-boyfriend came back after being gone for a bit to find both myself and his male cousin not okay. He spent the night taking care of me. It was almost Easter.

When I was 29, my then-boyfriend dismissed my explanation of someone touching my breasts inappropriately at an acro yoga event, saying that because we’d had prior history, I had welcomed it. I hadn’t. I hadn’t welcomed the prior history, either, but I’d frozen then as well. It had been preceded by unwelcome fingers finding me in a hot tub. I had moved, immediately, to another place. I did not say anything.

There is more. There is always more. There’s me at 19 being thrown to the floor of an acquaintance’s apartment; there’s me in Chicago being groped at a bar, shuffling against the wall to prevent it from continuing; there’s more; there’s more; there’s more.

This circus we’re currently undergoing in the political sphere is ridiculous. Not for a single reason. For a hundred reasons. I can’t explain to you the terror and discomfort I feel at night, in the morning, always. I can’t tell you what it’s like to relive my assault over and over again as I read the news. I can’t explain the tears I cried on Election Night 2016. I can’t explain the hatred, the rage, the shame.

My Facebook feed today – and not just today – is full of friends detailing their assaults publicly. This is both beautiful and horrific. Coming clean, coming out, explaining is so freeing, but also so exposing. And of them, most went unreported. There’s a sick statistic out there that says that something like 6% of rapists go to jail.

I don’t doubt that, and I honestly doubt that it’s not a lower percentage.

I can’t report mine. I was naïve at the time, and wasn’t aware that I had options. Honestly, I was more worried about my job than anything else. I didn’t know that I could have sued the company. The statute of limitations has since passed. It’s two years. An ex boyfriend, who was a lovely and supportive human being, looked into it for me. I won’t call New York State and explain to them what happened to me in 2013. Because I can’t and won’t be able to meet the burden of proof and I can’t and won’t handle the emotional damage it would wreak upon me.

I dated older men. I am kinky. I had drunk alcohol that night. Therefore, I must have been complicit. I must have wanted it. I must have invited him in.

I can’t prove otherwise. I don’t have blood tests to show you that I was drugged. I don’t have semen samples to show you that I had sex. I don’t have shit. It is me against the world on this one, and it always will be.

I don’t know what happened to my body in New York in January of 2013. I never will. But something happened, and everything changed. My life will never be the same. I’m lucky, because I wasn’t there for it, consciously. People far stronger than I have weathered the storm that comes from sex they’re there for. It wasn’t until I read an article in April of 2013 about the Steubenville rape case where an economist theorized that rape while you’re unconscious does no lasting psychological damage that all the hell came loose inside of me. I cried for two days; I didn’t sleep; I didn’t eat; I tore at my skin until I bled. It was then that the assault landed in a very real way. It was then that I called my therapist, and he came home from skiing to hear me, and it came out of me for the first time.

My life will never be the same. I have grown and overcome and learned and accepted. And I will never be the person I was before that night. I survived an unemployment hearing in which I was ripped to shreds by my former employer. I spoke bravely and certainly and calmly. And I felt relief. Someone finally heard me. Someone finally asked questions. It was horrible. I won.

To this day, I wonder what will happen if I ever run into any of those people who were complicit in covering up my sexual assault. My boss told me that the HR report was “inconclusive” and that if I told anyone at the company, and my assailant sued the company, it would be on me. He said that to me. I crumpled against the wall after he left my office. That was June of 2013.

I quit.

I went to work at a Dairy Queen and my life has never been the same. My career never recovered. My sense of self esteem that I had worked so carefully to build has never recovered. I have been treading water ever since, staying barely afloat and alive. I do work. I live. I date. I am. But I am not. And I never will be. I am alone. I live on an island of discomfort and fear. I live on an island of uncertainty. I have lost my confidence, my glow, my radiance. I am a shell of the person I was supposed to be. I am darkness and sadness and hurt. I am functional. I am outwardly happy. I am outwardly supportive and focused and attentive. I am none of those things. Not anymore.

I wanted to die.

My friend Gina asked me who would take care of my cat if I were to die, and that’s what saved it. I think of that, often. Carl is still alive. So am I. But what will save me when Carl is gone and the darkness resurfaces, as it does? I can’t die because I’d be letting down my mother. I can’t die because I matter to children. I can’t die because my room isn’t clean and I don’t want to bother anyone.

These are real thoughts.

If you watch these Kavanaugh confirmation hearings and don’t imagine yourself in Christine’s shoes, you’re wrong. Think. Think hard. Think of your whole life and think of everything that has happened to you. If you’re one of the lucky ones who has somehow managed to escape the touching and the groping and the sexual objectification and the assault and the rape and the disbelief and the cover ups and the fucking torture that is the cross-examination, you’re lucky. And you damned well better believe that it could happen to you. Because it will or it might. You can take every precaution and prepare every safeguard and you’re still at risk.

Life is hell. Sexual assault and rape and everything else associated with it is hell. For white men to stand up and deny this is disgusting. I am disgusted with our country, our president, our leadership. I am sick to my stomach tonight.

NO.

 

 

On Starting Over, Determinedly

Life has a funny way of giving you exactly what you need, even when it’s the last thing you want.

I haven’t been writing for a long time. I’m committed to changing that. It feels rusty, long-unused, unflexed. I sit here, staring at the blankness, and have no idea where to begin. But that isn’t going to stop me any longer. I’m going to word vomit things and then we’ll hope that the rust falls away as the posts fly from my fingers and I get my groove back.

So much of the next few months will be me getting my groove back.

I’ve had quite a month. Exactly a month ago today, my life started to careen off the track it was on, and now I’m finding myself exactly where I need to be, albeit mostly reluctantly.  Now ex-boyfriend and I went to Costa Rica in early July on a highly-anticipated adventure. Everything was magical, until it wasn’t. Cue a few weeks of uncertainty and panic, then cue the fights and the fallout and all of the upset in between. Then came the back and forth, the negotiations, the ideas of how to fix it proffered exuberantly and hopefully.

Questions arose about whether it was too broken to be saved.  It was.

Ultimately, we each did a lot of digging and still came up short. I’m frustrated. I imagine he is too. We both wanted it to be, and in the way that it was, it wasn’t going to be feasible. Too much clouded any forward progress. I hate it when things fall apart.

Could I have predicted any of this? Absolutely not. I had our life planned. I was finally feeling that things were settling into place, that I had found what I was looking for. Of course, that was not to be. There are moments of regret, for me, that will eat away at me if I let them. There are moments of clarity. There are moments of compassion, of understanding, of confusion. Looking back, I see everything, still a blur. I see the best parts, and I see the inklings that led to the rest of it. I see my truth and his truth and know that the middle is a mush of the actuality of the experience.

I imagine in the coming days and weeks, I’ll feel the swell of any number of emotions. I know that waves of hurt will lap at me, pulling my heart into sadness. I know that I will have moments of despair, feelings of unworthiness, anger, hope, and general panic. I know that I will be lonely. I know that I will feel relief. I know that I will feel all of it, in turn.

The routine of our life together is no longer. It is in that realization that I am the most uncertain. “What are we going to do for dinner?” has been replaced by grocery shopping for one. Weekends seem endless, extensive, empty. Plans of adventures are left discarded. The best parts are left as something for me to look back on sadly, knowing that none of that will ever be again. The inside jokes, the happy routines, the adventures. The memories sit heavy with finality, still tinged with echoes of the pain of lost possibility.

I remember when it first happened, staring out my front door and thinking, I am not ready to do this alone. It was the emptiest despair I’ve felt in a long time.

That’s where my work begins.

I had this idea that we were going to be an unstoppable force, an enduring team. I still want to find that. I still want to be with someone who wants to work together for a bigger purpose, to support each other in turn even when it seems unmanageable.

I won’t be seeking that for quite some time. I’ve got me stuff to do. I’ve got to learn how to manage it all alone, to succeed without losing myself. I’ve got to break the bad habits that hinder my growth. I’ve got to dig deep and examine so much. There really isn’t any time like the present. It’s like that annoying adage about how you have to do something you’ve never done before. I’ve got to continue the work I started a long time ago.

In a stark moment of honesty, during one of our discussions as we desperately tried to find common ground to stand on, I told him that I have been wanting to make my house my home, and that I’ve spent far too much time living other people’s lives. I had wanted us to work together to make a life.

My friend told me that I remind her of Julia Roberts in “Runaway Bride,” because she was always eating her eggs other people’s ways and that she didn’t know how she liked her eggs. I know how I like my eggs – over-medium with lots of pepper in the yolk – but point taken.

It’s time to figure out how to eat eggs.