How Lucky We Are To Be Alive Right Now

Here we are, the ass-end of another year. I sat down yesterday to write about Salome and her veils.

Then I re-read 2016’s year-end post. Apparently I had the same idea last year.

Always ahead of myself, it would seem. And forever forgetting it.

I expected I would endeth the year in much the same way as I beganeth, but….I didn’t.

Oh, I am still angry, that much is true, but I am not blinded by my rage. I can see around my anger now, see through it. I’ve spent the last twelve months honing it and sharpening it. It is an asset I carry around with me, at all times. A talisman, an amulet I wear around my neck. A sharpened stick a la BtVS to slay demons, both within and without.

It seems strange to look backward at this year and think, how lucky we are to be alive right now, but it’s the truth. I feel more alive than I have for a long time. Sure, much of that prickly pins and needles feeling stems from sheer terror and jaw-dropping incredulity, and it is also true that in my oh-so cushioned life as a migrant I do not fear for my day-to-day existence. The shit-storm clouds gathering over the United States affect my sensibilities and my ideals, but they do not affect my day-to-day life. My whiteness, my bank account, my education levels and my opportunities protect me from the worst of it. For that I am both grateful, humbled, and very, very aware.

Geographically, I’m hobbled from putting my body in the line of fire. Congressionally I vote in one of the bluest states in the country. So I’ve spent the last year turning inward rather than outward, listening and reading, essays on race, on gender. I’ve spent the last year sitting in the messy, pants staining muck of my own discomfort, challenging myself to rise above it. Failing…and succeeding.

I am a better person for it.

So how lucky I am to be alive at a time when black American activists, writers and artists, leaders and voices are finally garnering the recognition they’ve always been due. How lucky I am to be alive at a time when all of that is there for the taking. My table runneth over with choice.

For women, 2017 was a year of validation. All the churning, gut-tingling knowledge which was systematically denied and suppressed and second-guessed finally blew the world apart in a hashtag. I won’t lie. The taste of public vindication is sweet. If 2016 was the year Salome’s last veil dropped, 2017 was the year women burned that fucker like so many bras.

As painful as it is to see stories spill out like steam rising from sewer grates, it is glorious as well. I rode out the back nine of 2017 on a wave of sisterhood unlike anything I’ve experienced before. Will this time be different? I hope so. We have almost reached critical mass, the moment when enough women are in leadership roles to affect real, lasting change. We are at the damn barricades. We just need to topple them.

How lucky I feel to be alive in a world which is finally acknowledging women, our experiences, valuing our contributions not just as a substitute for men, but for ourselves. A world where we are being looked to and asked to lead.

In 2017 I  mourned the loss of a Clinton presidency. I may have been sorely disappointed, it’s true. But I will never know. What I do know is that a Trump presidency has issued in a political, social, and economic awareness unprecedented in my recollection. The safeguards many Americans assumed would protect them are failing–in some instances, rather spectacularly. For many Americans (raising hand), 2017 was the year we stopped taking democracy for granted. Stopped assuming it was something which we, as heirs to democracy with a capital “D” were entitled to. The reality of course is that the United States of America, just like any other country, must work to retain the ideals and principles it was based on.

As an American living abroad, I get a good glimpse into how those outside the US view America. If I could sum it up in one phrase it would be this: “fun, but arrogant as hell”.

May 2018 be the year more Americans check their global arrogance at the door.

2017 was the year my family started seriously contemplating a move back to the US. Each day I question whether it is an advisable one. Tuesdays it may be a yes, but by Wednesday morning, I’ve reversed my decision. But that is for another day’s discussion.

There were lowlights: a seemingly evergreen sadness at the never-ending news cycle of violence and death. Mass shootings in the United States, trucks wielded as weapons, suicide bombings that barely register in the headlines because they’re across the world. There were personal lowlights as well. Standing in my kitchen sobbing as I struggled to reconcile the vulnerability I felt with the fear of revealing it, the sheer cliff-face ahead of me raising two young boys, heirs to the very patriarchy I thought I’d be dismantling. Failure to secure a publisher for my novel, All the Spaces In Between. 

Art by Rebecca Fish Ewan

There were highlights, like reading 1001 nights to an audience of writers at my first writing conference. It’s been a long time since I did something with only myself in mind, which benefitted only me. It was powerful, uplifting, and tremendously rewarding. Having strangers ask for a hug because your words affected them is a powerful and humbling experience.

There was Wonder Woman and the Women’s March. There were the moments my sons described me as a feminist writer to their own friends and teachers. There was a trip to Washington DC, in which I literally stood and touched the stone edifice of so many buildings and felt their solidity ground me.

And of course, there was Hamilton, the soundtrack of the second half of my year. How lucky we are to be alive right now, indeed.

****

So here I am, looking ahead at my pile of new notebooks, of schedulers and calendars. At organizers and color-coded things. I know most of them will still be sitting there come December 2018, filled with the ragged edges of torn out shopping lists and scribbled notes about bills to pay. But the possibility they contain excites me nevertheless. I will persist.

I’m about a third of the way through novel #2, young adult speculative fiction. I hope in 2018 I’m three thirds of the way through it.

I will continue to write about women, to speak out about women, to fight for women. My words are slowly reaching more people. Bust Magazine reached out to me and has published a few of my essays. A fellow writer and editor asked me to pen a craft essay, which I used to highlight how I use my sex to enhance my writing, not hinder it. A parenting site reached out to interview me about raising feminist boys. As I joked to my husband, if I keep going at this rate, in 30 years I’ll be famous.

I am solid, finally grasping on to that quivering mass of rage-woman. I can actually grab a handful now. Actually much more than a handful, but again, I need to save something to write about next year, don’t I?

I know who I am. In fact, I’ve never been more sure of who I am.

How lucky we are to be alive right now, eh?

Bring it on, 2018.

 

 

Advertisements

Dear 2016, Suck It

hangoverDear 2016,

Well, here we are. December 31st. If you’ve got any more surprises up your sleeve–say Harrison Ford dropping dead or Simon le Bon suddenly suffocating, the sudden annexation of Poland by Russian troops-you’ve got less than 24 hours to do your dirty work.

The (not so) funny thing is that you, 2016, you weren’t even close to my worst year. I’ll save that accolade for the Annus Horriblus of 2004-2005, 13 months in which I lost my uncle, my grandfather, and my father in quick succession. Oh, and my oldest son was born with Meningitis. Nothing says suck-ass year like learning your father has terminal cancer followed by wondering if your child is going to live through the night. But well, you were a doozy, 2016. Not only did you steal my favorite actor, you made me question my time left on this Earth by allowing the icons of my youth to shuffle-ball-change off this mortal coil one after the other.

Oh, and then there was all the political stuff.

In June my British husband and I picked our jaws up off the floor as the UK voted to leave the European Union, mere months after we’d finally secured our kids dual citizenship in the misguided expectation all of Europe would be held in those passport pages. In July I watched, with great, gulping sobs, the first American woman receive a major party nomination for president. In November….

Well, we all know how I felt in November.…and December. And possibly how I’ll still feel in January.

Then, a brighter side. In quick succession in November, a duo of writing successes: a big contest win and even bigger accomplishment, securing an agent for my novel. In December, news of a Pushcart Prize nomination. The champagne I’d been saving for a certain occasion (see November), sitting forlorn in the fridge, was put to different use.

**************

When I wake on Sunday morning a new year will have dawned, bright and beautiful. Yet, Alan Rickman will still be dead. Donald Trump will be even closer to being sworn in as he 45th president of the United States of America, LLC, and Teresa May will still be wetting herself trying to figure out how to extricate the UK from Europe. Putin will still be laughing into his vodka, Paul Ryan will still be looking as throat-punchable as ever, women’s reproductive rights will still be under attack.

hangovers

On Sunday, a child will accidentally shoot themselves and die. A woman will be violently raped. Another will be beaten black and blue. A son will overdose on heroin, a daughter will come out as gay and be disowned by her family. A teenage boy will transition to life as a teenage girl and wobble forward on Bambi legs.

On Sunday, life will go on, the step from one year to the next no more than a countdown on the television, the ticking over of the second-hand on the clock. Bombs will still fall. Lovers will swoon. A heart will be broken, an engagement announced. A child will be born, a grandmother will die, couples will say “I do.”

Sunday will be no different from Saturday. January 1st no different from December 31st. It is both humbling and horrifying, the expectation held in that split second–as powerful as the Big Bang, as mundane as  8:43 ticking over to 8:44 on a random Tuesday in March.

I’ve always been a fan of New Year’s Day, the potential bottled up in a fresh new notebook page of a day. The feeling is muted this year. But, I won’t let you steal it from me completely, you son-of-a-bitch of a year.

You won’t be the last mostly shitty year, 2016. I imagine there will be years that seem tame by comparison and others that make this one look like a cake walk. I imagine I will look back at 2016 the same way I look back at pictures of myself in my 30s, laughing at how old I thought I was.

Thanks for the lessons, 2016. I learned a great deal: Don’t apologize for things that don’t need apologizing. Stop justifying. Stop asking politely, because while kid tested and mother approved, it doesn’t work when it comes to things like equality. Oh, and the most suck-ass-iest lesson of all? You can play by all the rules and life is still going to kick you in the teeth like a blue-balled donkey.

END OF THE NEW YEAR S EVE PARTYPerhaps it’s for the best. 2016 added a few layers of midlife fat to my midlife midriff, but it stripped away a few layers as well. Assumptions were shed like so many of Salome’s veils. Naive expectations crashed like so many tumbling bricks. You were the year, if not without a Santa Claus, than in which I felt like the foundation on which I stood crumbled away underneath me. But you were also the year I learned that I can regain my balance on the smallest of precipice, the tiniest bit of standing rock. Hell, there were days I felt like I could grab a broomstick and fly above the fire of my rage if I needed to.

I won’t lie. I’m not sorry to see the ass-end of you. But I’m ending it stronger than I’ve felt in a long time. Fatter, grayer, more short-tempered, but stronger for sure. If I’ve ever doubted my commitments before, my abilities, my intelligence, my voice than you, 2016–you shit-storm of a year, have taught me that I’m louder than I ever thought possible.

Love,
Me

 

New Year’s Revolutions

Counsellingnew-years-eve-resolutions-kaleidoscope-mental-health-services-melbournegeelong-werribee-motivation-anxietyWhen I was a young girl, knee socks and Easter dress young, confessing my grade school sins to Father Gilmartin was a regular part of my religious education. As an eight-year-old, my sins were pretty tame–more lying to my mother than coveting my neighbor’s cattle. Later I would wonder if worshiping at the false altar of Duran Duran qualified as breaking a commandment, but nevertheless, I always left the church with a helium kind of lightness. Spending five minutes in the quiet darkness of the confessional left me feeling clean, fresh; like a blank slate.

New Year’s has always held the same element of pine-fresh cleanliness for me. As a writer, there’s nothing more exciting to me than a blank page and New Year’s is nothing if not a whole book worth of clean, white pages. An unblemished chalkboard, a fresh start.

Tried last year and failed? No worries! Fallen off the wagon and under the wheels again? Here’s a hand, come on up and give it another try! It’s a New Year! Second, third and fourth chances welcome here!

I love New Year resolutions, all the pretty, little promises we make to ourselves. Bad habits we’ve been trying unsuccessfully to break, unwanted pounds to be shed, treadmills thick with cobwebs to be dusted off and used. We promise to quit this and start that. Change this and revamp that. Some people stick with them. Most don’t. I never fault anyone for trying. I get it. I do the same.

Back in November I took part in the NaNoWriMo challenge: 50,000 words in a month. I finished three days ahead of schedule: 50,206 words. I sat my ass on the chair, the couch, the floor, in bed and I wrote. And wrote and wrote and wrote. Four hours a day. The only reason I was able to do that all that writing was because I shut down every other program on my computer except the word processing one. No checking FB, no reading blogs, no reading about the latest Kardashian escapade on People.com. No Windows shopping, no Dlisted, no searching for Jaime Oliver recipes. It was amazing how much I got done without the distraction of the internet.

Blank_Page_Black_and_White_by_Spenc3rr

It’s been a long time since I prayed on a velveteen kneeler and confessed my sins to a priest. But between us, I have a parenting confession to make: our collective screen time as a family has gotten out of control.

The time we spend in front of our respective screens individually and as a family has gone from highly regulated to whenever, wherever. There are cables and chargers and adapters trailing like spaghetti from every outlet in my house. Screen time has gone from something to do occasionally to the go-to form of entertainment. Left to their own devices, they probably would…. and do…choose the iPad over a board game with me, choose the Wii over a trip to the park with Dad, choose a TV show over a museum outing. And we let them. Because they’re not fighting or moping or asking or demanding or fidgeting. And it gives us time to lounge and do the same.

I am not apportioning blame. I accept full responsibility. I’m smart enough to know that the buck stops with me and that I am just as guilty as the next son; checking Facebook, checking blog stats, cringing at Kardashians.

New Year’s is the perfect time to make some wholesale changes. To rock the boat. To regain control.

Sometimes though, a mere resolution isn’t enough. Sometimes you need revolution instead.

So my New Year’s revolution is this: more seen time, less screen time. That is, more time spent in the present and less in front of the computer. For me as well as the kids.

No more sleeping with the phone by the bed and checking blog stats if I happen to wake up in the middle of the night. No more leaving the laptop open and just checking FB as I’m walking by my desk and then getting sucked in for thirty minutes. Those are thirty minutes I’m never going to get back. Ever. And at my age, those thirty minute chunks of time start to add up. They start to count.

It’s going to suck. There will be ranting from the kids. There will be raving from me. We’ll be bored. We won’t know what to do with ourselves. Until we do. Because that’s what a revolution is. Upending the current status quo and turning it on its head, figuring out what to do while the smoke clears, and then rebuilding.

Maybe you have your own set of resolutions. Take a look at your list. Pick one. And then turn it into a revolution. A complete and utter upheaval of some system in your life that’s not working. You know what I’m talking about. That thing which deep down in your heart you know is broken, that makes your gut feel wrong. The thing you kid yourself about or make excuses for or the thing that has run so far away from you that the very idea of chasing down after it makes you tired.

Those things.

new-year-chapter-oneRevolutions aren’t pretty, velvet or not. But sometimes it’s the only way to change. It doesn’t have to be violent or bloody, but on some level, it’s going to hurt.

I haven’t spent five minutes in a dark, quiet confessional in years, but I’ve spent a lot of hours contemplating. I stopped making a laundry list of transgressions but I can still relish that feeling of possibility that comes from starting afresh.

And I can tell you this: in my house, the revolution won’t be televised.

What will your New Year’s revolution be?

 

Remembrance of things past (holiday goodies Part II)

039The end of yet another year.  A time for saying Hej Hej to the old and Hej to the new, for kicking bad habits and embracing the pristine promise that a brand spankin’ new year brings with it.  A chance to wear questionable head-gear and glasses with 2013 emblazoned in glitter and sequins.  If you so choose.  And a chance to say good-bye, one last time, to all the things that have passed out of our lives this year.

Sometimes we look back with a sad sort of fondness (farewell, Donna Summer, may you be singing under that great disco ball in the sky).  Sometimes sweet memories of childhood or adolescence are evoked (Good-bye Juan Epstein AND Arnold Horseshack, Mr. Jefferson, and Mrs. Laningham).  Other times it’s a relief to say good riddence to things and events (yes, I mean you former Rep. Todd Aiken).  In an admittedly morbid kind of way, I love these end of year wrap-ups.  I love the little bite-size chunks of nostalgia that allow us one last moment of remembrance and good-bye.  (Good-bye Maruice Sendak and Ray Bradbury, Neil Armstrong and Sally Ride.  Good-bye to MCA, here’s to hoping you  found sleep in Brooklyn at last.)album-Beastie-Boys-Check-Your-Head

And so, in the spirit of endings, and just in case the Mayans were right, here is my very own homage to things that passed out of my life in 2012:

Those size 4 jeans

The year before I turned 40, I went into a diet/exercise frenzy in order to look my best while swilling champagne and lamenting the fact that I was officially middle-age.  And for one brief minute, at my thinnest, and after a bout with gastroenteritis, I fit into a pair of size 4 jeans.  They were itty bitty.  I hung onto you for a while itty-bitty jeans, I even brought you with me to another country.  But 2012 was the year my closet, and my insane quest to fit back into them, said good-bye.

Blind obedience

I never thought I would miss the days of “time outs” or when the consequence of no cookie after dinner was enough to get one’s 4 year old’s butt into gear.  But alas, there is no more getting away with blanket threats of random consequence for my eldest child.  He is old enough now to question not only why he shouldn’t do something, but calculates the reward v. punishment ratio right there in front of us before sometimes deciding to just go ahead and do it anyway.  Farewell, blind obedience.  I feel like we hardly knew ye.

The desire for a third child

This one’s been hanging on for a few years, clinging to some sort of half-life, lying in a semi-comatose state but rising to consciousness every now and then.  But this year it finally gave up the ghost.  For a long time I would have been secretly pleased if a little bundle of oops came along 9 months after a night of wine and parental approved passion.  Now, frankly, the idea scares the shit out of me.  I live in fear of the ‘change-of-life-baby’.  When I was lobbying hard for a third,  my husband would look at me with those wounded doe eyes and  say, “Every day we are getting one day closer to getting our lives back the way they used to be.  Why would you want to screw that up?  Why???”  Finally, I see his point.

Internet message board addiction

Not only have I found a new way to spend my husband’s money, not only do I have a house full or scarves, but my new knitting hobby has also at long last freed me of my internet message board addiction.  For years I would read these snarky and malicious message boards and silently fume at the callousness of people.  Yet every night, sitting with a glass of wine and a bowl of salty, after-dinner snack, I would go back for more.  Farewell internet trolls.  I may need a twisty straw to get to my wine while my hands are busy with my knitting needles, but it’s a small price to pay to be free of anonymous vitriol.

Lazy weekend mornings

Long gone are the days of 11 am wake-ups followed by a mimosa driven brunch followed by a nap.  But recently, my husband and I have been able to make sure the kids have food and are not heavily armed, make a pot of coffee, and get back into bed for an hour or two.  Bliss!  But just when you think you may be getting your Saturdays back….the sports stuff kicks in.  And now there’s lacrosse on Saturdays and football on Sundays and well, it’s only going to get worse really isn’t it?

Vitamin D

When we first found out we were moving to Denmark, everyone mentioned Vitamin D.  I should take it, my husband should take it, the kids should take it.  We should bathe in it if we could. I kind of poo-poohed it.  How different could it be from living in New York?  It’s not that much further north, is it?  I was wrong.  After a year here, I think my stockpile of sunlight from Cyprus has finally been depleted. I am tired.  I am listless.  I am off to the apoteket for supplements.

So there you go.  My very own In Memorium.  Overall, it’s a much better list than 2011’s would have been.   Last year I was saying goodbye to a lot of very dear friends, the place I called home for 3.5 years, and a front tooth.

7-24-12-Sally-Ride_full_6001175942490_1