Tuesday, June 30, 2015

No, I don't need to respect your opinion

Since the landmark SCOTUS vote for marriage equality there have been a lot of emotional exchanges on social media. Some of it has gotten ugly. I've also seen several pleas for tolerance of differing opinions, and specifically for respecting the deeply held religious beliefs of others.

While I’m all for both tolerance and freedom of expression, I found myself bristling at some of these peacemaking requests.

At its heart, it’s because I’m uncomfortable with the underlying premise that this is merely a debate about personal beliefs.

Let's look at belief for a minute.
You may believe in many things, including the power of prayer, abstinence before marriage, snake wrangling, Coke over Pepsi, and homosexuality as a sin. That’s all fine. In that case, you should feel free to pray, abstain from sex, wield snakes, guzzle Coke and marry someone of the opposite gender. In a free society, those are all choices one has. As long as our choices don’t harm another or break the law, we can pretty much knock ourselves out.

However, this does not mean we can require others to drink Coke or marry only people we personally approve of. And it especially doesn’t mean we can withhold basic human rights from another because they are different from us.

That's not belief. That's tyranny.

We all get to control what we do. We do not get to control what other people do. That’s the basic teaching in How-To-Be-A-Human 101. If you missed the class, go back and take it again.

Look. It would be one thing if publicly proclaiming that homosexuality is a sin and all gay people are going to hell was just a harmless conviction. But it’s not. Negative attitudes toward LGBT people put them at increased risk for experiences with bullying, teasing, harassment and physical assault. It erodes their confidence and makes them feel like it’s not safe to simply be themselves.

Consider this:
  • 9 out of 10 LGBT teens have reported being bullied at school within the past year because of their sexual orientation
  • LGBT students report being 5 times more likely to miss school because they feel unsafe after being bullied due to their sexual orientation
  • About 28 percent feel forced to drop out of school altogether
  • Each episode of LGBT victimization, such as physical or verbal harassment or abuse, increases the likelihood of self-harming behavior by 2.5 times on average
  • LGB youth are four times more likely to attempt suicide
  • With transgender people, the number is even higher

While espousing a belief that homosexuality is an abomination is a choice you have, it’s one that is actively contributing to an atmosphere which harms others. That’s not just theoretical, it’s statistically proven.

So yes, it’s your choice. It’s just not a very nice one (see aforementioned 101 course).

As if this wasn’t bad enough, these protestations, when met with backlash, are often followed up by cries of persecution. I’m thinking in particular of one person who posted an horrendous anti-gay rant, copped some abuse for it, and then took to her social media page to complain about what she considered to be a mean and horrible backlash.

Intolerance and persecution are bad enough. But when they are delivered in the guise of martyrdom, it really flips my pissy switch.

I think one of the reasons this bothers me so much is because of my work in the field of domestic violence. Let’s talk about the perpetrators of abuse for a moment. One of the hallmarks of the abuser is that he fancies himself a victim. If you see this man in the courtroom he will likely not only proclaim his innocence, but accuse his victim of all manner of injustice against him. It’s a nauseating blend of bullying and cowardice – psychological projection in its most distilled form. I’ve witnessed it countless times and experienced it firsthand.

I see the same thing happening with some of these religious arguments. The intolerant demand tolerance. The persecutors cry persecution.

No go.

You don't get to ask me to respect your beliefs, if you beliefs cause harm to others. And you do not get to lob a grenade into a crowd and then proclaim victimhood when people start throwing things back at you. 

Better yet, just stop throwing grenades, period.

If you keep that up, you’ll never make it out of that basic How-to-Human class. And I hear there will be one hell of a party once we all pass.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

A litter of nursing kittens

Look what I have under my roof at the moment. Pretty adorable, aren't they? Yes, I'm a foster mama again. These kittens are about two weeks old.

This beautiful mama and her four babies kittens were dropped off at a local kill shelter. They did not have room for them and reached out to some other shelters to see if they could find a foster, so they wouldn't have to put them down. This is unfortunately not uncommon in the springtime, during "kitten season". When I got the call, of course I said yes.

The mother, Ophelia, is a small kitty and fairly young herself. I don't know that she's even a year old. She is one of the most gentle, calm cats I've ever met, and very affectionate. She is exceptionally tolerant and will let me get up close to take pictures of her and her babies.


Today I went in the master bath, where the foster cats stay, and l lay down on the floor to shoot some pictures and just look at them. The kittens began nursing and I listened to them purr and suckle and watched them knead their mother's tummy. I felt a sense of peace wash over me. I don't think it's possible to feel stress in the presence of purring cats.

I am not a religious person. I think of god as simply the energy of pure love and compassion and peace. It is oftentimes when I am in the presence of animals that I feel imbued with that energy. I felt that this morning as I lay on the cool tile floor and watched this beautiful mother nursing her babies. Afterwards, they fell asleep against her warm tummy.

Ophelia and all four of her kittens will be up for adoption in about six weeks. If you are interested in opening up your home to one of these amazing animals, feel free to contact me.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Should you think twice before telling your story?

Image Source: www.pexels.com
If you had asked me when I was younger what sort of activity I would find most fulfilling, I would have never said: “Sharing really personal information on the internet, yo.” Even today I’m a bit surprised how quickly my writing edged over into the intimate, and how much satisfaction it provided. Humanoids…we’re so unpredictable.

I’m not alone in this, as there are a number of bloggers who write very openly about their lives. Telling our stories publicly can be a little scary. The world is full of lions and tigers and judgement and internet trolls. Such candor is probably best left for the intrepid and the blissfully na├»ve. But if your story is about domestic violence, there may be another really good reason to remain quiet: safety.

This was something I thought long and hard about before putting up my first post about DV. I didn’t know how to keep writing without mentioning this huge, life-changing thing that had happened. And I didn’t want to stop writing altogether, especially at a time when I really needed the support of the community I was engaged with.

In the end, I made the decision to talk openly about what had happened, even though I knew that doing so carried a risk. The truth was that I was already in a great deal of danger, regardless of whether or not I spoke out. Staying quiet, I reasoned, was not going to keep me safe.

It paid off for me. There were repercussions, most certainly, but they were outweighed by the benefits. I received enormous support and, ultimately, justice.

One of the other benefits of telling my story publicly is that I’ve been approached by a few people who have asked to include pieces of my story in their books. One of those books is Living Proof, by John Capecci and Timothy Cage. The book originally came out a few years ago and I read it at the time and loved it. It’s a wonderful book for anyone who is telling their story to make a difference. The second edition, due out in a few months, is expanded and has some additional stories, mine included.

I’ll provide a more in depth review when the new edition is released, but today they did publish a short excerpt on their blog, as part of a series called ‘Moving from Silence to Story’, which is where my story is featured. They discuss this issue of safety in their post. You can read it here.

Despite my own experience, I would not necessarily advocate for a victim of abuse to speak out publicly. It could indeed provoke further violence. Every person’s situation is unique and they have to decide for themselves what is right for them. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again and again – I may even tattoo it on my forehead – you have to trust your instincts. Whether you’re dealing with violence or something more ordinary and mundane, your instincts are always your best compass. 

Saturday, March 28, 2015

All the places I've called home

I grew up in California in a house that sat atop a hill. Tall grass and scrub oak blanketed the surrounding hills. The home buzzed with life. Two kids running hither and yon, a dog and a cat and a bird and various pocket pets that never seemed to stay around for long. The house was alive with joy and energy. The sun shone bright overhead and my heart soaked it all in. I lived there until I was thirteen, at which point my parents divorced. I moved out with my mom and not long afterward, the house on the hill was packed up and sold.

Next was a series of rented apartments that felt like way stations. My mom drifted from place to place, trying on new versions of herself, and I tagged along behind her. This went on until I was on the cusp of adulthood. I learned to hold my breath, to not put down roots. It was a lesson in the impermanence of life.

As long as I was unmoored, I decided, I would travel. I worked temporary jobs until I had enough money to travel, then I took off on some new adventure. I kept my possessions few and lived lightly. I traveled all over the country, and eventually across the ocean. I spent six months traipsing across Australia, going deep into the red interior. I found the land to be inescapably beautiful. I felt at peace there, my soul taking root in the ancient red land. This foreign yet familiar place redefined for me the meaning of home.

In my mid-twenties, I moved to Kansas to be near my mom. I decided to go back to school. I rented an apartment in an old Victorian house and settled in to the rhythm and beat of campus life. It was my first home that was mine alone, a place of blossoming. I filled it with books and travel mementos and quilt fabrics. Light streamed in through the big front window, where my cats perched on the sill, lazily twitching their tails. It was a place of joy and friendship, of creativity and freedom. The stuff of creation. At the end of my first year at school, within the span of a handful of months, my mom was diagnosed with cancer and died. I was bereft. But I stayed on three more years in my newly-made home, and it soothed my broken heart.

My next home was on an island in the Pacific Northwest. I was drawn there by the beauty and solitude, but hadn’t considered what it would feel like to be so alone. I imagined I would make friends, as I always had, but this proved a challenge. It never occurred to me that it might be difficult to meet kindred souls on a remote, rural island. I felt like I lived inside the pages of National Geographic. Bald eagles soared overhead and nested in the tall trees overlooking the strait. Orcas and grey whales breached and spouted. The cold sea lapped the shore. At night I could hear the mournful cry of foghorns and feel the vibrations from the cargo ships cruising silently through the dark passage. It was hauntingly beautiful, but the trees sucked up all the light and my heart grew lonely.

I returned to Kansas and moved into another Victorian-era home. The house was old and friendly and weathered. The dining room floor slanted downward and I had to duck to enter my bedroom closet. I painted the kitchen yellow and filled the house with quirky second-hand furniture. The house was light and hopeful, like my last home in Kansas, but I had carried with me some of the sadness from the island and it settled into the home. I stayed there for two years, feeling about, looking for a path.

Next came the house in the suburbs. I had never wanted to live in the suburbs - beige neighborhoods filled with beige cookie-cutter houses – but I let him choose the house. Life had taught me to bend with the wind, but sometimes I bent too far. I came to the house reluctantly, one eyebrow raised. My travel photos and quilts seemed out of place within its newly constructed walls. It felt like someone else’s home. Nevertheless, it was a place that birthed and grew children. A place where cookies were baked and faces cleaned and floors swept again and again. The house, benign and accommodating, nurtured my kids through childhood and sent them off to school. The seasons recycled themselves and life was pleasant enough.

But then there was the summer when everything fell apart. When violence cut like a knife through our family. His lawyer demanded the house and I, frightened and somewhat relieved, made preparations to leave. I was surprised, however, when the house held fast to us. The horror of that period drew out for another three years and all that time we stayed in the house. She held us there through the longest night, cupped in her hand, cushioning us from a series of sucker punches.

When the storm passed and we emerged, shell-shocked yet intact, I regarded the house with a newfound appreciation. I had never seen the loyalty and strength hidden beneath her beige exterior. This place I had leaned away from all those years.

She holds us now with an open palm, like a good Samaritan setting free a once-wounded bird. She wills us to take flight. I can feel her folding up our family’s history, like a laundered sheet, tucking it into a trunk for shipping. She is making preparations for a new family and some days I can almost hear the laughter of someone else’s children running down her hallways, strewing crumbs across her floors and gathering the oversized leaves from her yard.

When I lie quietly at night, I can feel our next house beckoning to us. I catch the fresh scent of towels still crisp from the clothes line. I hear the wind in the trees outside and the murmurs of my children in the next room. I feel the passage of time, like Fortuna’s wheel, carrying us forward towards the next new place, the framework of a home waiting for us to write our story into its walls.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

The 39 Reasons

  1. I have to write. It is in my blood.
  2. But I don’t have time anymore. My job sucks up all my time.
  3. I’m too exhausted.
  4. Besides, the community isn’t there any more.
  5. I will be writing into a void.
  6. I miss that sense of community so much.
  7. Life has become too heavy and serious.
  8. And what if I don’t write anything inspired?
  9. What if it’s boring?
  10. My writing has bored me lately.
  11. When I write too much, the truth comes out.
  12. The truth is painful.
  13. I don’t want to feel it.
  14. I’m hungry. I wonder if there is any cake left?
  15. I need a cup of tea, too.
  16. You know, there is so much heaviness associated with this blog.
  17. When I open it up, I remember all of it – the ups, the downs, the serious downs.
  18. It comes flooding back.
  19. I need to start another blog, one that is fresh and new, without that heavy history.
  20. But god that’s a lot of work, building a new blog.
  21. Yeah, no. I don’t want to do all that work.
  22. It’s not just the painful memories. I’m reminded of all the dreams I had, too.
  23. I’m reminded that my life hasn’t worked out the way I hoped it would.
  24. I’m still in Kansas.
  25. I feel old.
  26. I’m being morose. I would feel better if I started exercising again.
  27. Actually, I should be cleaning.
  28. I should go get my kids off the computer and do a puzzle with them.
  29. In fact, we should have scheduled family time once a week. No computers, no devices.
  30. What if I write and no one reads?
  31. What if people from work are reading? That’s always awkward.
  32. What if my ex’s family reads it?
  33. What if he reads it?
  34. He gets out in two years.
  35. I don't think Anna fed the cats. They are looking at me like they haven't been fed.
  36. I need to go to bed in an hour.
  37. Seriously, fuck all of it.
  38. I just want to write.
  39. I need to write.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

For Kate

Photo credit: dreamstime
I have the Facebook Timehop app on my phone. Every day it delivers back to me the status updates I posted one, two, three or more years ago on that same date. Five years ago next month marks the day my marriage imploded. Four years ago today I was strolling along Bondi Beach in Sydney, preparing or the first Aussie Bloggers Conference (remember that?). Two years ago July I sat eating an ice cream cone a thousand miles from home, waiting for charges to be levied. A year ago last month my ex-husband was sentenced. The dates roll around in a circle, a series of awkward anniversaries.

It’s humbling to see the passage of time. When everything went south in my life, I kept the faith that some sort of salvation was just around the corner. My ex would be arrested. We would move far away. I would run every day and get fit. I would lose weight. I would start blogging regularly again and I would love it. I would write my memoir and get a publishing contract. I would find love again – this time a healthy, worthy love. As I sat wrapped in my pain, I willed these things to happen.

I would even start off down a rickety path towards one of these goals, but I never got far. I would put up an online dating profile, only to meet someone who was embarrassingly like the man I’d just left. I would look for jobs overseas, and get overwhelmed by the red tape and stacked odds. I would begin churning out blog posts, and then have my words thrown back at me in court. I would start running and eating healthier, only to have my progress interrupted when I had to pack up the kids and leave home to find safety. Two steps forward, three steps back. I felt like I couldn’t win for losing.

It pissed me off, frankly. After all, didn’t I deserve a reprieve after everything I’d been through? Hadn’t I earned some good karma? I had endured so much, why must I get more of the same? I figured I must be doing something wrong.

I remember one day, not long after returning home from the summer spent in hiding, I was driving through my neighborhood. I saw a woman out running on the same path I had run on six months earlier. I felt a pang of jealousy and thought, “Look at that woman running, like I used to do. She gets to go home to a house that is safe. She probably has family nearby and a partner to support her. I bet she doesn’t worry about money.” I envisioned a wonderful, successful life for this unsuspecting woman, a life that was the antithesis of mine.

And then, quite suddenly, I felt something inside me shift. I was now seeing myself running on that path, only I saw myself as an outsider might. I saw a woman who had been through some serious shit. Unfathomable shit. She would fashion a dream and then get knocked flat, and then she would get up and fashion another. And look at her out there in the midst of it all, trying to get fit! She keeps getting up and moving forward, spinning hope out of nothing.

The world tilted just a bit and it shifted my viewpoint. Instead of a failure, I saw myself as resilient. I felt compassion for myself. Love, even.

The gift of perspective dropped in my lap.

Today I read a post by a fellow blogger, Kate. She’s been through some pretty intense trauma recently. Several aspects of her story parallel mine and when I see her updates, it’s like that Timehop app -- I am reminded in a visceral way of the emotional journey I was on a few years ago.

Kate, I wish I could tell you that it will all be over soon. It might, then again it might not. But what you’re doing is spot on. You’re turning around to face it. When I stopped willing my situation to change and instead sat still with it, the ugly feelings began to dissipate. I sat there a long, long time (I’m still sitting).

You’re getting up each day and getting on with it. You’re traveling an unmapped road and making decisions in each moment about what’s in your family’s best interest. You’re taking a private journey in a sometimes-public way and because of that, you’re leaving bread crumbs for the countless others who suffer in silence. The ones you don’t even know about.

If I have any advice to give, it would be this. Keep following your instincts. Keep healing. Sit down with your pain, say hello, pour it a cup of tea, and it may begin to dissolve on its own. Maybe, when it does, you’ll begin to see yourself as those around you see you: strong, beautiful and full of courage.

There is no timeline. You’re doing it exactly right.


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