Writing with one eye: diary entry of a neurologically unhappy quasi-cyclops

It’s been a long month.

Two weeks ago I underwent a procedure most people call cataract surgery, which I have unilaterally nicknamed “extreme Lasik.”

It has left me unsettled, crabby and neurologically unhappy.

HasanCataracts20180324.jpg
The slightly fuzzy version of Hasan Minhaj is a rough approximation of the way everything I look at appears at present.

I know cataract surgery is different than Lasik. With Lasik, a medical professional reshapes your cornea using a laser. Cataract removal is when your cloudy lens gets broken up, suctioned out and replaced with a new, custom-made clear one.

The results are the same in that (worst-case scenarios excepted) you end up with clearer vision. That’s the good news.

The bad news – for me, at this moment – is that in the US, cataract surgery is done one eye at a time with a minumum of four weeks between procedures.

Which means that I have another two weeks of walking around like this, “this” meaning that at the moment, one eye doing is one thing while the other is doing something else completely.

For the first time since I was eight, I have nearly perfect distance vision my left eye. I remain wildly nearsighted in the right. If I put my glasses on (with the lens removed from the “fixed” eye), I have clear vision in both. But because glasses distort an image slightly, everything is two different sizes and my brain – to use a scientific term – spazzes out.

Glasses are no longer a viable option.

So, at the moment, I am not wearing glasses. Visually, it’s like being being stuck in that point in “Stranger Things” right before everything goes horribly sideways.

Evidently, I’m legally able to drive with one eye, so I am, but just during the day. When thngs get too weird, I just put my hand over my right eye and look out the left for awhile. Some people suggested wearing a patch, but I will only do that if I can accessorize with a parrot and a bottle of rum. Which are definitely not part of the library’s acceptable dress code, so…no.  I have settled for  whining a lot, which is making me excellent company (NOT!)  for everyone lucky enough to be in my orbit.

Meanwhile, the world goes on. I am reading “The Lemon Tree” by Sandy Tolan and absorbing information about the founding of the State of Israel that diverges wildly from what I was fed as a kid. Integrating what that means moving forward is going to be a sad and important job.

Omarosa figured out that she was better off throwing President Trump under Air Force One instead of trying to reboard it. One grandkid is learning to swim and the other one is working toward getting up to eight pounds.

And as of yesterday, the world is a sadder and more silent planet with the passing of Aretha Franklin. Sweetheart and I were lucky enough to see her perform four years ago at the Wisconsin State Fair, a peak moment because she is – as is the case for so many people – part of the soundtrack of my life. Unlike a lot of performers I’ve seen at “smaller” venues, she very much did not phone it in. Her three-hour set included all of the big hits, lots of new material and plenty of solos by members of her 20-plus piece band.

At one point, between songs, she said she had an old friend in Milwaukee and asked if that woman was in the crowd. She was. They had a conversation right there – the friend from her seat and Aretha from the stage. They did a little catching up. Aretha asked about her children and grandchildren (some of whom were there) and made arrangements for her to come backstage after the show. Then, she continued on, dazzling us with her voice, piano styling and her very talented nephew, who was part of the band.

‘Honoring Miss Pietsch’ or how a composer helped me get my house in order, featuring 1886 wallpaper

 

House1904AAUW
Composer Edna Frida Pietsch stands in front of her house in 1904, insert is Pietsch at 8, in 1902. The awnings are in the attic, although they’re pretty worn out. (Photo from Wisconsin Women: a gifted heritage©1982, a project of the Wisconsin State Division AAUW

If anyone with a social media presence wants to see their blog stats tank, here’s my advice:

  1. Quit Facebook.

Even though my blog is my gift to me, a place where I write what I want to in order to loosen myself up to write better and more freely and not about how many readers and followers I have, I will freely cop to being a little sad at how dramatically my readership disappeared when I parted ways with Zuckerberg & Co.

But, I’m over it now. (Okay, maybe I am. Or maybe I’m just lying to myself.)

In the meantime, I have made excellent use of the time between blog posts to do something I have not been able to do since moving into my current house. With a little push from the house’s longest resident, Edna Frida Pietsch, and a lot of help from a couple of neighbors, my house has turned into a place I want to hang out in instead of run away from.

Well, the first floor, at least. Which is a lot, given that the first floor includes a kitchen, living room, parlor, dining room and a couple of porches. All presentable, all beautiful.

MusicRoom
The parlor – and music room

What brought on this miracle?

Two things, actually. One was our neighborhood’s annual home tour. Sweetheart and I live just outside a historic district that has hosted a home tour for the past 28 years. When he lived here with Then-wife, they were asked multiple times to open the house up for the tour, but didn’t.

I’d done the tour before. My previous house was inside the neighborhood boundaries, and there was nothing  wrong with it that a cash infusion of roughly $250,000 wouldn’t have addressed nicely. It was 2005’s “house-in-progress.”

The tour prep process resulted in a lovely, tranquil and neat first floor that stayed lovely, tranquil and neat for six months. Then, a car accident rendered me unable to do much of anything involving cleaning up after people who messed up faster behind me.

Still, it was a valuable lesson. I learned I could create and maintain order – something I had not had the chance to know about myself prior.

In the ensuing years, my decision to live in what could diplomatically be described as a pigsty was informed by my priority list.

When Sweetheart bought his house back after By-Then-Ex-wife put it up for sale, I was working full-time and in graduate school. That overlapped with helping Mom move across six states into an assisted living high-rise and then to a nursing home. Good grades, keeping my job and caring for my mother took precedence over housekeeping.

Still, the process of organizing Mom’s house while she was still there to ensure maximum safety and efficiency while she lived independently, then breaking it apart twice more for her moves showed me I had somehow mastered the art of hanging on to the right stuff without hanging on to all of it – or even too much.

There are people for whom housekeeping and clutter-repelling comes naturally. Sweetheart and I are not among them.

So, for almost 10 years, I lived in this house and whenever I had the time to look around, mostly wanted to cry and run away because there seemed no way to get it under control.

Graduating from library school in 2014 freed up time, but by then Mom was in the nursing home. My free time went there until she died.

Then, it was March of 2018, and all I had was a job. No Mom. No school. Just an upcoming neighborhood home tour focused on the arts.

And Edna Frida Pietsch, the neo-classical composer whose father and grandfather built our house. Pietsch spent either all of her life here or lived here from the time she was five – in 1899 – until she died in 1982.  She taught theory and composition at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music for 35 years and composed solo, chamber and symphonic works.

20180511_123022
A cassette recording of Edna Frida Pietch’s “String Quartet in D Major”

Given that, there was no question that her house had to be on the tour. So, thanks to a pair of Sallys – the tour chair and the volunteer chair – we cleaned, and scrubbed, and excavated. (Good people going through rough times –intimate partner violence survivors and people living with brain disorders – will make good use of what we don’t need and won’t miss.)

I took a trip to Madison’s Mills Music Library at the University of Wisconsin, where Pietch’s manuscripts and recordings are housed. Library Director Jeanette Casey and her staff were wonderfully helpful. After I left, they digitized some of her music so I’d have recordings to play on Tour Day.

 

 

 

Pietsch’s portrait hangs in the Art, Music and Recreation room of The Milwaukee Public Library. Librarians there let me scan reference copies of her music. And an anthology of Wisconsin women published by the American Association of University Women featured a section on Pietsch and photo of the house from 1904.

MPL_PietschPortrait.jpg
Edna Frida Pietsch, painted by Joan Beringer Pripps

Hands in Harmony, a local piano studio, provided three hours of live music from teachers and students, including some works by Pietsch. The house looked fabulous.

The morning of the tour, I was putting the finishing touches on a display board. An empty board was laying on the dining room table.

“Can I use this?”

Sweetheart was cocking his head at the display board, his arms wrapped around a worn-looking cardboard box he’d brought from some cluttery corner of the attic or basement.

He began laying chunks of dusty plaster on the cardboard, arranging them in lines. Some broke apart as he lifted them from the box.

1886WallpaperBoard
Chunks of dusty plaster

“Um….what are these?”

Which is how I found out about the second chimney sprouting a leak, causing a dining room wall to buckle. Sweetheart and Then-wife had to remove the plaster and replace it. Underneath the molding, they found the 1886 wallpaper. He’d boxed and kept it, along with a sample of the old-school jute-lined linoleum that had been under the carpet when they’d redone the floors.

WallpaperCloseup.jpg
The 1886 wallpaper

We gently wiped the wallpaper with damp cloths. The plaster dust vanished, revealing a floral pattern in deep burgundy, with various shades of pink, almost silver, and gold. I thought – not for the first time – of how lucky I am to have a life partner like Sweetheart.

Hitting the ‘delete’ button on Facebook: a Dispatch from the quiet zone

 

On April 10th, I posted this on my Facebook feed:

I was going to just leave quietly, but it feels disrespectful to so many of you who I care about. I joined Facebook quietly in December of 2006 as a puckish joke on one of my kids, and it quickly became a mechanism for staying in touch far-flung friends. It also helped me make new friends, and valuable connections. But for a lot of reasons, it’s time to go. I’m reassessing a lot of things in light of Mom’s death, and the way I engage with social media platforms is on that list.

 Regarding Facebook, I know enough about what privacy means in an electronic environment to have kept my settings set at maximum privacy, not take any of those damn quizzes or list my forty favorite songs, colors or facts about myself I wasn’t willing to share. But the way Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg made it okay for anyone who let the vampires in to also let them in to their friends’ houses was not okay.

Two days later, I clicked “Delete my account.” I was informed that if I logged in within two weeks, all would be forgiven and my account restored.

Now, that’s a non-option.

QuittingFacebook2015-06-19teehee
And then, with a single keystroke, I flushed Facebook.

There’s been a lot of hand-wringing over Facebook’s lack of respect for user privacy, but knowing what I knew about the ways in which data gets collected, mined and used, I was less surprised about the outrage than I was at the constant (see blog archives for the paper I wrote about it in 2008) insistence by Zuckerberg & co. that they had no idea that FB data could be used for anything other than good. If I, a nobody sitting at my kitchen table in 2008 could identify multiple ways personal data could be used for less-than-savory purposes,  there’s no excuse for those two to turn into a pair of outraged Victorian ladies, all atwitter at this assault on their delicate constitutions.

Still, a lot of people, whether or not their data was scooped up by Cambridge Analytica (mine was, unsurprisingly), are sticking with Facebook.

I’m not one of them. When I left, Sumner & Jessica were about to become first-time parents. I wonder how my fellow librarian pal Keith in Syracuse is faring, whether Celia got to the beach for the annual sea turtle rescue and how many impromptu house concerts and other adventures Marge has had in the last week (probably about 20, knowing her as I do).

But the truth is, Facebook had become an avoidance strategy. In the time Mom was declining, it was a way to decompress and run away from thinking about what was going on in my life. The energy it took me to do what I needed to for her left me with little time to address my house, which was becoming more cluttered, and the long-form project I’ve been working on – mostly in my head – for decades.

So really, Cambridge Analytica was just the final push forward on a journey that I’d been trying to summon up the will to start taking for awhile.

Since leaving Facebook, I can’t say I’ve made major strides on any of these things. But I have made strides.

As I write this, the radio is on and I’m half-listening to an episode of Hidden Brain in which a young mom talks about how reluctant she was to portray anything but the perfect life and compare hers to other peoples’ perfect lives.

The dog is begging for a bite of the waffle I’m eating, Sweetheart broke a dessert dish in the microwave warming syrup; there’s a load of laundry in the wash and the litterbox needs changing.

I was actually on national television and in the New York Times for being one of the first “old” people on Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg may have kind of needed me then, but he sure doesn’t now. At the time I quit, I had more than 1,500 contacts. All of them were there for a reason, whether or not we’d met in person.

I used Facebook to connect people with each other, to stay in touch with far-flung friends and to stay current in my job. There are times when I miss the ease of being able to manage those connections.  But I managed just fine before Mark Zuckerberg.

I’ll be fine without him.

Death: the most unlikely of happy endings or ‘Bossiest Eulogy Ever’

MomReadsPaper

Mom died on February 25th. Her funeral was in Utica, New York; yesterday was her memorial service. This is the eulogy I wrote and read yesterday.

Eulogy II

The first Tuesday after Mom’s funeral, I woke up and, because it has been part of my waking-up ritual for what seems like forever (even though it wasn’t) she was my first thought.

The picture that immediately popped into my head was her coffin newly lowered into her grave – a gorgeous, round-topped pine box the color of warm tea, black grain running through like tea leaves.

The feeling it evoked was a mixture of happiness, relief and serenity. Mom was okay. Mom was safe. She wasn’t confused, afraid or anxious. Her body wasn’t stiff and rigid because of a Parkinsonian freeze. She was beyond pain, beyond fear and I felt at peace.

This is not always how I feel about having a dead mother. The range of emotions I am experiencing on account of this loss are different than any of the others preceding it. Sadness. Relief. A little conflicted about the relief. Relaxed in a way I haven’t been in years. A little conflicted about that.

I am happy she got to see me finally marry the right guy, graduate from library school at 55, even if she slept through a good deal of the ceremony (lucky Mom, right?), share some of my life in Milwaukee and give me the most incredible gift of all – the absolute trust that I would have her back as she navigated the terrible and solitary torture of a slow, agonizing slide into helplessness and utter dependence.

For a woman who associated being dependent with being neglected, marginalized and abused – for valid reasons – this required an unprecedented leap of faith, on two fronts.

 

A little context – on two fronts

Mom’s upbringing, combined with the circumstances of my birth, had not laid the groundwork for dependence with dignity or mother/daughter compatibility.

She’d been a surprise.

Her parents were excited about another son to help with the planting, harvesting, milking and other farm chores. Instead, they got a fourth daughter. She was two weeks old when her sister Bessie suggested calling her ‘Arlene’ with an ‘I.’ (Her birth certificate reads “Baby Chernoff.”)

Mom grew up poor, Jewish, left-handed and unwanted on a farm during the Depression. A doctor told her parents, immigrants who hadn’t gone past sixth grade, that she shouldn’t be allowed to read outside of school because of her poor eyesight. The only toy she ever had was a doll her brother took apart. She once told me that when she really wanted to set her mother off, she’d walk around the house singing “Sometimes I feel like a Motherless Child.”

Her incredible tenacity in surviving her first year at Syracuse University with so little preparation for college life, eventually figuring it out (in part, after the dean in whose office she was crying told her to start doing the New York Times Crossword puzzle every Sunday) and going on to graduate and build a life in New York is remarkable.

 

A brief digression

I will now break from this eulogy to present a brief episode of “Irlene Chernoff: Life in New York.”

Scene: Girl’s night out. Syracuse Alumni Lois (tall) and Irlene (not so tall) enter the Waldorf Astoria Hotel to attend a talk by Eleanor Roosevelt.

They stroll across the lobby to the elevator and press the call button. The elevator arrives. They step in. The elevator is occupied by two women, one tall and one not-so tall.

The tall one is Eleanor Roosevelt.

The not-so tall one is Dorothy Parker.

Brief Silence. Furtive staring.

Lois: “Irlene. I never realized how short you are.”

Eleanor Roosevelt: “Good things come in small packages.”

Dorothy Parker: “So does poison.”

End Scene

 

Two-front context – continued

Then, a 50’s-era miracle happened. After having all but cemented her place in the family as the cool aunt and successful old maid career woman, Mom snagged the hottest bachelor in Utica. Being “Mrs. Rabbi Waldman,” in the words of my friend Debra, was her favorite job ever.

Here’s Mom, describing Dad in a letter turning down a job offer in New York in April 1958, because she’s getting married:

“…he is everything I ever dreamed of in a man. He is warm, sensitive, human, strong and the most understanding man I ever met; in addition to being liberal, of diversified interests and professionally a rabbi …”

By the time I came along, Mom’s older siblings had all reproduced. Used to being bossed around by the four elders, none known for being shy about their opinions, she was nervous in the way of any first-time mom. Unfortunately for both of us, I was born by emergency C-section two weeks after my due date, and because of Mom’s reaction to anaesthesia, by the time she was fully awake and ready to be the Best Mother Ever, I was a week old and had bonded with Dad.

Things were different 17 months later when Debby came along, and thus, the family rectangle (Amy/Dad, Debby/Mom) was established. It worked well until 1974, when Dad died.

A seismic shift

Until about 2005, Mom and I did not have the easiest relationship. Sometimes that happens with mothers and daughters, and if the daughter is lucky – which I was – she gets to a place where anger, sadness and resentment are replaced by gratitude for (in my case) the care she does give, and for a great husband and in-laws, supportive friends and the ability to have built different relationships with my own daughters.

One by-product of Parkinson’s disease was that – to paraphrase Mom – she stopped seeing everything she didn’t like about herself in me and started seeing me. Our subsequent relationship was deeper and more satisfying for its having happened long after I’d had enough therapy and done enough interior work to understand that parent-offspring compatibility is an add-on, rather than part of the standard package.

Nothing compares with what it feels like – after almost 50 years – to suddenly have a mother who goes out of her way to tell you you’re terrific and you feel it it so much that you could spend the rest of your life lying on your back and rolling around in it.

Even if that had never happened, and I was standing here, I’d still be grateful for everything Mom gave me, because once you know that nothing you do will please someone, it gives you the freedom to not worry about displeasing them.

Which, like the love you can roll around in, is also a gift.

And as the daughter who ended up being Mom’s Primary Person on her Grand Exit Tour of Planet Earth, it was my job to make sure she faced some unpleasant stuff in the service of making sure that her Grand Exit went the way she wanted.

Son of seismic shift –  the nursing home version

It would not be an overstatement to say that Mom’s Exit Plan did not involve a slow agonizing slide into helplessness in a Milwaukee nursing home. She had ordered up a serving of being “carried out of here feet-first,’ “here” being the condo she’d bought on Cape Cod in 1982.

I have vivid memories of visiting nursing homes with 50-something Mom. We’d walk into a facility and the smell – a melange of stale, damp and vague decay – would hit us. Near-comatose people with wispy hair and rheumy eyes sat in wheelchairs in the halls or rows in common rooms in front of a TV, some aware of us, some staring at nothing. On our walk back to the car, Mom would utter a variation on the same theme.

“If I’m ever like that, shoot me or give me pills.”

I didn’t shoot Mom, and I didn’t give her pills. But there were so many times, especially over the past two years, when I wondered why she was still alive. I went from being angry all the time to “she’s warm and I can hug her.”

And I came to rely on a group of people I had already grown to love and respect – the holy women (and occasional man) who cared for Mom and the rest of the people in the Helen Bader Unit with relentless devotion.

They helped Mom through these past brutal years, but they also helped Debby and me. It was a team effort in a game that ended with Mom’s death. And now that it’s over, I’m gonna tell you two things. First, we won. Second, we were able to because of three other things.

The most important – Thing One, if you will – was Mom. It was her decision to move into the nursing home. I’m not saying it was easy, and I’m not saying it was pretty. Debby was freaked out about her spending $10,000 a month on 24-hour care on top of rent for her assisted living apartment. I was slightly less freaked out but knew it wasn’t sustainable. That four months, though, gave Mom the time she needed to wrap her head around what she realized needed to happen. It was her idea to tour the Home; she chose Bader.

I have seen – and continue to see – new people coming in who didn’t choose. Some are angry, and what’s hard is made harder, both for them and for the staff who care for them. It is a stark contrast and a constant reminder of the remarkable courage my mother displayed in making her own decision to move to a memory care unit.

I also know that part of the reason she was able to make that courageous choice was because she knew – Thing Two – she could count on me. By then, we were far enough down the road that, given the choice to stay and help or have me do it, she jetted off to California to hang with her sisters, allowing me to set her room up in a way that it could serve multiple functions (seating and dining facilities for six) and favorite pieces from every room of her former home(s).

The “as happy as possible under the circumstances” ending

Bragging about your childrens’ achivements – the albums, the concerts, the book deals, the degrees, the awards, the jobs – that’s easy.

Entrusting your own well-being to their care is a whole different level of affirmation.

I did it as right as I could, and I think, for the most part, I got it pretty right. But I got it right because she helped me get it right. I got it right because she was honest enough and courageous enough to face her own death, and when she wasn’t, she borrowed my courage and my love for her and we got through it together. And when I wasn’t courageous enough to face her decline, I had spent enough time at the nursing home to be on a first-name basis with the people who were caring for Mom, and they helped me. That’s Thing Three.

If your mother lives in a nursing home, it’s a nursing home. But your mother lives there, so it’s also your mother’s house. When you come around more, your mother might not get more attention and more care than the people whose families don’t come around, but I know this – she gets better care. Because as good as those caregivers are, no one has time to rummage through your mom’s drawers and discover the several-sizes-too-small bra that belongs to the lady across the hall. Also, they are going to have your mom’s back like nobody’s business if you show up, because you’re going to see what they do and how to make your mom’s life and their lives as easy as possible, given the circumstances.

So this isn’t really as much a eulogy as it is a message, and kind of a directive from us. Mom’s death was beautful, and it was beautiful because I never stopped telling her, right up to the end, that this was her old age and eventual death and that she was in charge. And I never stopped believing it.

In truth, I started pushing her to talk about what she wanted and what we should do long before she was ready.

But because of – or maybe in spite of it – Mom and I were able to have all the hard conversations, and even find some light moments in the midst of them. We planned her funeral and this memorial service together, and the comfort of knowing what she wanted and being able to make it happen has brought me the kind of comfort that only a supportive mom can give.

‘No Bullshit’ 2017 is almost over: Time to ring in #racistinrecovery 2018

9781608198061_custom-035ffdc5e88431604aa7739c254c44f7148f65e0-s99-c85
No. We cannot talk about something more pleasant. (On a separate note, for anyone dealing with elderly parents, this is a must-read. I chose it to illustrate this post because the title works for being a racist in recovery, too. Unpleasant but necessary…..)

“It is coercion of the strongest kind, because it appears in the guise of a self-evident necessity and is thus not even recognized as a coercive force.”

Ludwik Fleck, “Genesis & Development of a Scientific Fact”

 

I started 2017 with a post about making this a “no bullshit” year. Seing it out with a post about being a racist in recovery might be as “no bullshit” as it gets.

Attorney, mom, and all-around powerhouse Sandy Broadus introduced me to the term when, during a particularly heated social media discussion, she referred to some of the posters as “racists in recovery.” I may have been included in that group, I may not have. I don’t know.

What I did know was that it was a total hand-meet-glove moment and mine was in the air, waving wildly while yelling, “YES! THANK YOU!!!! THAT’S EXACTLY THE RIGHT TERM FOR IT!!!!”

In my mind, I saw the hashtag (#racistinrecovery). I saw myself wearing the T-shirt. Then I saw myself trying to explain to an angry mob that I had never worn a white sheet, pointy hat, set a cross on fire or dropped the “n-bomb” in casual conversation.

That’s racist behavior. Racist in recovery behavior is something else altogether.

Racist in recovery behavior is what happens upon realizing that the result of growing up majority culture means you have absorbed some default prejudicial beliefs you don’t even know you’ve absorbed. But knowing they’re there bothers you enough to try to undo the damage, at least as much as you can and more if possible. Which is tricky, because you don’t even know where it all is or when or how it’s gonna crop up.

I explained to someone this way: It’s like you’re a tea bag, and you live in a cup full of water. Everything around you is tea. Why would you think there was anything else?  How does a tea bag know that there’s a whole different kind of world outside a teacup? (I realize that this assumes sentience on the part of the tea bag. For purposes of this analogy, that assumption is correct.)

Being a Racist in Recovery means stepping far enough out of your comfort zone to trust someone else’s view of how what you are saying comes across. It means being willing to let go of notions you took for granted. It means taking the word of people’s experiences as people of color at their word, not challenging, minimizing, apologizing or denying those experiences. It means standing quietly and listening, and it means speaking up in situations where you hear someone who might want to be a racist in recovery or who is just a straight-up racist say something racist.

I’m not a big New Years resolver. I want to get more exercise and drop a few pounds, clean my house, write more, play my instruments more and waste less time 12 months of the year. But I would love to see #racistinrecovery become a thing in 2018.

Consider this my “Help Wanted” ad.

Shit-pile theory of life explains mysterious difference between Democratic and Republican *sex offenders

Al Franken announced his resignation from the Senate Thursday in the wake of a bunch of disclosures from women that he was handy and not in a good way.

That was shortly after the Republican party publicly endorsed Roy Moore, the Senate candidate who was reportedly banned from the Gadsen Mall for creeping on (to use a term I first heard out of the mouth of Ex One’s best friend Tommy) “Tenderonis.”

Since then, there has been a lot of handwringing on social media about why it is that Republican sex offenders* are, for the most part, circling the wagons while Democratic sex offenders* are, for the most part, resigning from office.

I, too, was struggling with this. Well, I was. Then I filtered it through the Shit-Pile Theory of Life, at which point it made perfect sense.

The “Shit-pile Theory of Life”  

I don’t remember when I came up with the Shit-pile Theory of Life (Shpitol). It was at some point during a decade running a Displaced Homemaker program at a Large Midwest Technical College. I wanted to encourage my participants to keep moving forward, even when what was in front of them looked scary and insurmountable.

Here’s how I explained it in those one-on-ones with my participants. For starters, I substituted “Manure” or “poop-pile,” given that shitpile is NSFW.

Every single person – regardless of how rich, successful or powerful – is born with a pile of shit. Here’s the person {insert hand gesture indicating person on left} and here {insert similar hand gesture indicating shitpile on right} is that person’s pile of shit.

Here are four different ways people deal with their piles of shit:

  1. Some say ‘Omigod, Omigod!!! It’s a pile of shit!!!” And they freak out and run around like headless chickens because they’ve got a pile of shit. This, it goes without saying, is not a healthy or effective way of dealing with their shitpiles.
  2. Some say “Oh yeah? A pile of shit? Not here!” These people address their pile of shit by throwing it at other people. Not a good idea, because shit gets thrown back at them and they end up engaged in a constant metaphorical shitwar in which everyone gets dirty.
  3. Some say “Pile of shit? What pile of shit? I don’t smell anything. You must be hallucinating.” These people end up in deep doo-doo, because ignoring your shit does not make it go away.
  4. Some say, “I’m going to turn this shit into fertilizer if it’s the last thing I ever do.” Those are the ones who, if they don’t give up, eventually end up with a garden.

How does this apply to the current situation with, globally speaking, the Republicans, aka “elephants” and the Democrats, aka “donkeys”?

At first, everyone was running around like headless chickens. Since moving on from there, the elephants are now throwing and ignoring their shit. The donkeys are trying to turn theirs into fertilizer.

 

Turning shit into fertilizer is hard work. It takes time, thought and deliberation; the end result is growth.

Far easier, in the moment, to throw or ignore it. But as a long-term strategey, it rarely works. Shit has a funny way of sticking around. When you throw it at other people, they tend to throw more back. Ignoring it is even more dangerous, because not only it does it not go away, your pile actually gets bigger and will eventually bury you.

It’s anybody’s guess what will happen tomorrow when Alabama voters head to the polls to pull the lever for Roy Moore, Doug Jones or write-in candidate Lee Busby.

One thing I do know? Ignore that steaming pile at your own peril.

*Sex offender: a person who has offended another person or persons by invoking sexual acts/behavior using words or actions

 

Real Apologies Matter: A brief stroll through Sexual Predator Apology Land

It’s been busy around here. Thanksgiving is in the rear-view mirror. Before that though, my faithful seven-year-old computer went kerflooey. Never mind that I had writing deadlines. Thankfully, I have an understanding editor. And over at the library, we are moving to reduced-service status for the next year or so while we get a new building. So I’ve been weeding like crazy.

And every day, the news features a “Creep du Jour” and it’s either some dude old enough to be your father (I’m looking at you, Charlie Rose) or your little brother (that would be you, Lewis C-K) or the guy who was a complete asshole to your now deceased former husband when said former husband committed the terrible offense (upon finding himself the other occupant of the elevator on which said Creep was riding) of telling the Creep much he enjoyed his work on Saturday Night Live (Al Franken, C’mon down!).

Regarding C-K, his apology engendered this response from one of my more opinionated offspring when I observed that at least he’d apologized. It took place on a mutual friend’s Facebook page.

Opinionated Offspring: “NO COOKIES FOR DOING THE LEAST!! I don’t give him any respect. He’s a predator and he got called on it, it’s not like he voluntarily mea culpa’d out of the goodness of his heart. We should all be absolutely finished with giving men cookies for just doing the right thing— ESPECIALLY when the ‘right’ thing is admitting he’s a sexual predator.”

CNYFTY_Pic
A photo taken early in my career as a sex siren, between Incidents #3 & #4 on the list below. I mean, look at me. Am I irresistible or what?

My response was to post the following list:

  1. Bruce P. I was 13. Our teacher sent us to the auditorium to check on something for that night’s performance of “The Wizard of Oz,” our eighth grade play. He decided, with all the other boys standing there, to find out for sure whether or not I stuffed my bra. He never apologized.
  2. Symeon of Symeon’s Greek Restaurant. I was 15. He was married with three children. Mom said “The food is good.” She kept taking us there. He never apologized.
  3. I don’t remember his name. I was 16. He was a 48-year-old divorced classmate of my father’s. He never apologized.
  4. Lewis K. (not c-k) I was 19. He wouldn’t let me leave his dorm room. I talked myself out of there, but made sure to never again be alone with him. He never apologized.
  5. My great-uncle Sam. I was 19. He had a daughter my age. But that didn’t stop him from trying to slip me the tongue. He never apologized.
  6. I don’t remember his name either. I was 20. He was at least 50, lived in Abu Ghosh and worked at Ma’ale HaChamisha. Cornered me in an isolated part of the kitchen to cop a feel. He never apologized.
  7. Mike M. I was 33, divorced, newly-disengaged, never had had a full-time job but was doing all kinds of freelance writing and looking for a full-time writing/reporting job in Milwaukee. He offered me a job but sexual favors were a condition of employment. His response to my reluctance was “If you won’t help me, I won’t help you.” I took a job 200 miles away. He never apologized.
  8. Jeff J. He was a practitioner of what (thank you, Charlie Rose) is now called “The Crusty Paw,” aka “unsolicited shoulder rubs.” We were both at work in an otherwise unoccupied part of the building when he came up behind me and began the pawing, which didn’t faze me until he upped the ante by dropping a kiss on my neck. I said “That was your one freebie and if you ever do it again, I promise you’ll regret it.” He apologized.
  9. Walter B. I was at a neighborhood party in my new neighborhood and he groped me. One night, on a walk with a male neighbor, I told him what happened. “He groped me too,” said the man. Upon further investigation, it turned out that getting groped by Walter at a party was some sort of perverse neighborhood rite of passage. Needless to say, he never apologized to anyone.

All this to say: Apologies, if they are heartfelt, sincere and a first step toward permanent change, matter. Or, to put it in the parlance of another current social movement: “Real Apologies Matter.”

C-K’s apology had me from his opening line.

“These stories are true.” No equivocating. No accusing anyone of lying, or misconstruing, or misunderstanding.

To be clear, I also pointed out to Opinionated Offspring and anyone else reading the thread that C-K’s apology does not in any way minimize his (hard-earned? {ducks}) predator status. It cracks open a door he may or may not be able to actually step through at some point. (Which is a lot more than can be said for Roy Moore or the Groper-in-Chief.)

I am not smart enough or sophisticated enough to know what a person who preys on others this way needs to do to fix himself (or herself if the gender shoe fits).

I can’t speak for anyone other than myself in speculating about how someone in this position begins to rebuild that blown trust and credibility with the people they’ve wronged.

But for me, admission of responsibility and an apology would constitute an excellent start.

I’ve seen Bruce P. at several high school reunions, and every time it makes my flesh crawl. I want to stand on a table and scream “How dare you show up here!” at the same time I’m cowering underneath it. But it’s as if I’m somehow paralyzed, so I just try to pretend that whatever corner of the room he’s in doesn’t exist. Meanwhile, he’s Mr. Oblivious, laughing, happy and and holding court with groups of laughing female classmates I can’t approach because I’m busy avoiding that corner of the room.

At our most recent reunion, I buttonholed the female classmate in that cluster who I trusted most (which I am realizing as I write this was kind of an awkward, eighth-grade-level attempt to get her to be my wingwoman in some sort of possible meeting in which I could possibly get some resolution, given that he is obviously not going to stop coming to reunions and I am not going to let him stop me from showing up). I was not heartened by her response.

“I’m sure he doesn’t even remember! He was probably drunk!”

Me ( in my mind): “We were 13! Are you on crack?”

Me (aloud): “Whatever.” {Changes subject}

So, where does any of this leave all of us #metoo types?

Over on Facebook, a few people reacted to my posted list with horror, kindness and empathy.

My response was to reassure those good people that I am, and remain, fine.

“I don’t live in all this, or even relive it. But it’s important to not bury it. People need to understand how common the behavior is and how uncommon the apologies are. There really needs to be ‘Truth & Reconciliation’ type activities around all this, and for the people who have committed this type of action to know what they’ve done and say it aloud is an important step.”