We Should All Be Weeping

If I had a daughter, I would want her to be little like Emma Gonzalez.

Or perhaps a lot like her.

There are a hundred reasons. There is her buzz cut for starters. As a woman who used to shave her head I promise you, bringing a set of clippers to your scalp is a statement, bold as brass.

There is her voice, honest and loud and cracked through with emotion. She is passionate and raw and real and as ragged around the edges as the shredded jeans she sports.

But as I watched her stand in silence for the better part of six minutes, shutting her eyes against what must have been a groundswell of emotion from both within and without, what struck me — or more accurately smacked me around the head with a 2 x 4 — was the ferocity with which she embraces her tears.

Emma Gonzalez keeps allowing us a window into her heart, and by doing so, she is normalizing the act of crying. By refusing to hide her anger and rage and grief but instead allowing us a front row seat to those tears, she is telling us it is ok.

It is ok to cry.

Because really, we should all be weeping.

We teach our American boys to man up, be strong, grow a pair. We teach those sons to suppress and repress and deny. We teach them to show emotion is shameful and weak. We decry boys and men who do show emotion as pussies, as feminine, as damaged and less than.

Crying is for girls, our boys are told. Which has somehow unmistakably become synonymous with weakness.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student Emma Gonzalez wipes away tears during a CNN town hall meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018, at the BB&T Center, in Sunrise, Fla. (Michael Laughlin/Sun Sentinel/TNS)

We teach our sons that boys don’t cry. We teach them that real men do not feel.

Except that boys do cry. And men do feel.

Why? Because they are human, and this is what humans do. We feel. That ability along with opposable thumbs, that’s all that’s really separating us from our red-assed, chest-thumping ancestors.

You can’t keep suppressing something as natural as emotion. You know what happens? All of those pent-up feelings explode outward. In a fist connecting with a cheekbone, or a crowbar to a window, or a spray of bullets.

It’s a fucked-up crazy upside-down world when we demonize tears and normalize rage.

Humans feel. We cry. Out of sadness or fear or pain or rage or frustration, of joy or happiness or pleasure. Crying is nothing if not a reboot for the soul.

We should all be weeping.

Yet we keep encouraging our boys not to. And by default, our girls. Because as women we know firsthand that a show of emotion will be held against us, used against us, a black mark against our souls when it is time to have our hearts weighed and measured.

And then here comes Emma Gonzalez and her tears.

Perhaps if we encouraged more crying things would be different. We might be sopping up tears, but perhaps we wouldn’t be cleaning up so much blood from classroom floors.

Maybe if we encouraged more weeping, we wouldn’t have to spend so much time figuring out why all that pent-up emotion with nowhere to go then explodes like an active volcano, taking the rest of us with it in its red-hot wake.

I spent a long time after the last US election in a pit of fiery rage. It took me a long time to understand that rage was a finger in the dike, holding my grief inside. I knew if I let that grief out, it would sweep me away. It would knock me under and drag me out in its undertow and spin me until I didn’t know which way was up and which down.

I was terrified of showing my vulnerability. I was terrified because I knew it would be held against me. It would be seen as a weakness, held over my head like a Damoclean sword.

It took me even longer to understand that vulnerability, far from being a weakness, is one of a woman’s most powerful strengths. Because it allows me to feel. And to grow and learn and manage and channel and adapt and change and live.

We should all be weeping. At the world we’re fucking up. At the blood stained floors and the hate-fueled mess we are creating. We should be weeping with the mothers and fathers who have lost their sons and daughters, over the children who are washing up dead on foreign beaches, with the brothers and sisters who are being shot and killed for nothing more than being black at the wrong time, with the people across a globe being bombed into oblivion.

We should all be weeping.

Yes, if I had a daughter, I would want her to be a little and a lot like Emma Gonzalez.

But I do not have a daughter. I have sons. But I have sons who will grow up unafraid to express emotion. Who will be encouraged to cry and fear and feel. Sons who will watch me cry and rage and feel. Because how else do we teach our children to embrace their feelings — all of them — sadness and anger and fear and joy — how do we teach them what to do with those emotions if they do not see us experiencing — and surviving them?

Emma Gonzalez’s tear streaked face is a symbol. Not of weakness, but of strength and determination. And yes, of vulnerability.

We should all take a page out of Gonzalez’s book. We should all be weeping.

This post first appeared on Medium. I’d be grateful if you’d give it some love over there.

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My Life as a Sponge

We’ve all had shit days.

We’ve all had days when it feels good to unload on someone else: a secret we’ve been carrying, a ball of anxiety knotting its way through our digestive tract, a fear, an embarrassment, a hazy memory of dancing on a table after that shot of tequila…

If we’re lucky, we have a friend or a spouse or a parent who listens. They take on a bit of our worry, making our own burden a little bit lighter. They absorb it.

Like a sponge.

As a mother, I’m an expert sponge. Seriously. As a wife, I’m pretty good too. Actually, I think I’m an all-around decent sponge. There are times though when it feels like my sole job in life is to be a giant sponge. There to sop up excess emotion and tears, to take a little anxiety or unhappiness onto my own shoulders. I shift. I accommodate. I rearrange the already heavy pack on my back so I can add another load like that ass from Buckaroo.

Mother, wife, daughter, sister, friend. This is what we do for one another, right?

Right.

Most of the time I don’t think about it too much. I sop. I absorb. I soak up everyone else’s worries and anxieties like a boss. And usually there’s enough time in between major spills to dry out. But every now and again you’re sopping up one mess after another, absorbing one hurt after another, mopping upset and stress and baking cupcakes and trying to figure out where this new fear of the dark came from and making sure football socks are clean and calling your mom and double checking that your son’s sandwich doesn’t have cheese and because God forbid he have cheese it’s the end of the world and freaking out over the news and–

Basically you’re taking on water from so many directions you get saturated.

There are only so many leaks you can plug. After all, even sponges have their limits. Without time to dry out they disintegrate and fall apart in a big, crumbly mess.

Ideally, there should be a sponge-share agreement, whereby you take turns. Most of the time this works. My husband and I seem to have an unspoken understanding that only one of us is allowed to freak out at any given time. If I am in free fall, it means he needs to be up to bat. And vice-versa. Two parents in meltdown is never a good thing.

But life is life is life and things happen and unpredictability and everything else and sometimes there’s only one sponge left in the cupboard.

When this happens, I recommend a week by yourself in a sunny location to dry out.

Of course all you usually get, if you’re lucky, is five minutes in front of a 200° oven while you stir the casserole you made for dinner. The one you hope has enough in it to shut everyone up for a few minutes.

That is, just enough time to dry out enough to sop up the next mess.

 

 

 

 

 

Women’s History Month: Rosalind Franklin (1920-1958)

Confession: I have a semi-obsession with today’s featured woman.

Rosalind Franklin was born in London in 1920. By the age of 15, she knew she wanted to be a scientist. Her father, however, wanted her to be a social worker.

Nevertheless, she persisted.

She entered Newnham College in 1938. By 1945, she had earned a doctorate in physical chemistry from Cambridge University.

In 1951 she began working as a research associate at John Randall’s lab at King’s College. There she met Maurice Wilkins, both of whom were assigned to work on separate DNA projects. Wilkins, perhaps unsurprisingly, assumed Franklin was a technical assistant and not a peer. Franklin, being a woman, was shut out of certain opportunities…

“Only males were allowed in the university dining rooms, and after hours Franklin’s colleagues went to men-only pubs.”

Nevertheless, she persisted.

Between 1951 and 1953, Franklin, with the help of a student, Raymond Gosling, “was able to get two sets of high-resolution photos of crystallized DNA fibers. She used two different fibers of DNA, one more highly hydrated than the other. From this she deduced the basic dimensions of DNA strands, and that the phosphates were on the outside of what was probably a helical structure.”

“She presented her data at a lecture in King’s College at which James Watson was in attendance. In his book The Double Helix, Watson admitted to not paying attention at Franklin’s talk and not being able to fully describe the lecture and the results to Francis Crick. Watson and Crick were at the Cavendish Laboratory and had been working on solving the DNA structure. Franklin did not know Watson and Crick as well as Wilkins did and never truly collaborated with them.”

“It was Wilkins who showed Watson and Crick the X-ray data Franklin obtained. The data confirmed the 3-D structure that Watson and Crick had theorized for DNA. In 1953, both Wilkins and Franklin published papers on their X-ray data in the same Nature issue with Watson and Crick’s paper on the structure of DNA.”

In 1956, Franklin was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. While undergoing treatment she continued to work, publishing 13 papers throughout 1956 and 57.

She died in April, 1958.

In 1962, Crick, Watson and Wilson were awarded the Nobel Prize for their discovery of the double helix model of DNA.

Rosalind Franklin: The Badass Scientist whose research was responsible for the discovery of the DNA model.

Rosalind Franklin: The woman whose name you most likely never learned.

Read more about Franklin here.

Happy Women’s History Month.

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So, why am I obsessed with the colossal shafting of Rosalind Franklin? Franklin represents to me all the hurdles that women did (and do) face in fields that are dominated by men. Shut out from networking and the casual sharing of information over dinners and clubs, in backrooms and labs, she STILL managed to produce results.

Current books which do mention Franklin talk about her abrasive attitude and difficulty to work with–traits thrown at groundbreaking women all the time. Imagine working, as the only woman, in an isolated environment, without access to the same information, and essentially being told to smile more.

Imagine what she could have done had she had access to the same information, the same level of academic involvement and confidence in her career, the same networks and assumptions.

Imagine indeed.

 

The Magic Quilt of Expat Life

I’ve been an expat for nearly ten years. Blimey, that’s a long time; long enough to start using the word blimey in a non-ironic way, even. Nearly ten years overseas means I have said more than my fair share of goodbyes. I’ve gone to a lot of leaving lunches, farewell festivities, and tally-ho teas. I’ve drunk kegs full of coffee, ingested numerous kilos of cake and watched the resulting kilos materialize on my ass. I’ve given speeches, listened to speeches, presented gifts, bought gifts, assembled slide shows, written songs.

I’ve done it all.

It never gets any easier, not really. I almost always cry.

Not big, gulping sobs, though sometimes it has come close. But that sort of crying when you can feel it coming down the track: the tight throat, the sting behind your eyes, the stuffed up nose. It bears down upon you like a freight train and there’s little you can do to get out of the way in time. A whistle of warning, someone choking on a word, and that’s all she wrote, folks.

A room full of weepy women.

I wrote a post a long time ago about the importance of not crying during these things. Five years later I’ve changed my mind.

Cry, cry, cry.

Cry a river if you need to. It’s good for the soul. More people should cry. And more often.

Newsflash: Women cry. We cry when we’re happy. When we’re sad. When we are frustrated or overwhelmed or raging like a menopausal witch (No? Just me?). We cry over car commercials and Christmas commercials, during movies and reading books. We cry when someone else’s kid’s feelings get hurt. We cry at the very idea of something happening to someone we know. We cry when we meet our family at the airport, when they leave, when we fight with our partners, when our kids say something hurtful. We cry as we watch our kids walk across a graduation stage, when someone else’s baby is born, when things go awry.

We cry.

So, when you get a room full of women in a room, women who’ve spent a few years getting to know one another, giving each other rides and acting as emergency contacts, getting to know each other’s kids and families, seeing each other through difficulties and partners working in other countries, clinging together for dear life on this life boat of friendship in a foreign land–when you get a room full of women like that together and someone gets choked up? You almost always end up with a room full of weepy women.

These ritual goodbyes and all the emotions they evoke is a kind of exquisite torture. It’s incredibly poignant to hear stories and reminiscences, to look at years worth of pictures, to see the evolution of expat friendships play out in celluloid. It’s like watching a time-lapse of a child growing up.

I’ve been tasked with putting together a few of these slide shows. When I do, I always include a montage of people who have already said goodbye, though it’s becoming increasingly difficult for me to remember whose paths have crisscrossed after this many years, whose lives have become entangled with whose. But I do it so that those folks, the ones we’ve already said goodbye to, remain a part of the whole. A panel that when stitched together with all of the others makes a quilt of a certain time and place.

It’s one of those magic quilts that keeps on growing.

Saying goodbye is hard. We should cry. And laugh. And rejoice and give thanks and feel sad. This is the reality of our life. Sometimes it can seem like the life of an expat is glamorous vacations and non-stop parties, but the edges of a life lived outside the borders of your own country can be rough. It’s just that no one takes photos of all those tears, those rooms full of weepy women, and posts them up on Facebook.

But maybe we should.

As a storyteller, it’s an incredible privilege to hear the stories that belong to others. As a human being, and a friend, it’s humbling when I get to be a part of that story. A panel on someone else’s quilt.

So many times those stories start off with feelings of loneliness and isolation, feeling stranded and out-of-place, nervous, unsure footing on choppy seas that are taking you far away from everything you know. And then the magic: one day, one coffee, one conversation, one friend. The tide begins to turn. The seas calm. Coffee doesn’t slosh out of your cup when you’re trying to drink it. You look around, and far from being alone, you’re at a table for forty eating kilos of cake.

 Just look how it ends: a room full of twenty, thirty, forty, sixty people who have put aside a chunk of their day to celebrate a friend, a friendship, to say goodbye and good luck. It ends in a room full of women to whom you mean enough that they hold back a tear, wipe a wizened eye, choke back a sob. A panel on that magic expat quilt that never stops growing.

Just look what you mean. 

Blimey, indeed.