PSA

Traffic circles (or “roundabout” for you blowhards out there) are a 1-way road that you enter by yielding. Everybody coming up from slightly behind your left shoulder has the right of way, you may enter when it’s clear. It’s not necessary to signal upon entry, since the road is ONE WAY, nobody thinks you’re going any other direction. When you approach your exit, go ahead and signal that you’re leaving so the people trying to enter at that spot stand a better chance. You don’t stop in the middle of the traffic circle, that’s dangerous. You don’t expect others to stop in the traffic circle, that’s dangerous. If you city has installed a mini traffic circle at what should be a 4-way stop, then yield to the person on your left and elect new city officials because those guys suck. 

When your lane on a multi-lane road ends, travel to the END OF THE LAND, then zipper into the other lane in an orderly fashion. Don’t panic and stop in the middle of your lane with 100 feet ahead of you, frantically blinkering and trying to nose into traffic, thereby creating a long line of pissed off people both in your own lane and the next. Just go all the way to the end and watch  the car ahead of you proceed to safely change lanes, then wait for one car in the oncoming lane to go, then the next one waits for you. They won’t always, but don’t presume dickishness. Don’t be a dick either, by forcing your way into a spot that wasn’t meant for you. When it’s your turn to let someone else in, go ahead and DO THAT so as not to encourage people to muscle in when it’s not their turn. It’s much like kindergarten, in that respect. 

Contrary to traffic circles and merging traffic, four-way stops progress in a right hand direction. When any number of people greater than one approach an intersection at the same time, look to your right. Nobody there? Congratulations! You get to go first, next, etc. Failing to stop gets you de facto right of way status, and also the title of Grand Dickhead, or “Asshole” for short. 

Inclement weather creates hazardous road conditions. There is no immunity to these conditions based on the price of your car. An $80k vehicle slides on the ice in the same manner as a $10k vehicle, and crunches just as dreadfully. It does, however, provide a very satisfying spectacle to everyone who doesn’t drive an $80k vehicle to see it crunched on the side of the road, so if that’s a public entertainment you want to provide, then by all means, don’t slow down on wet or frozen roads. 

I Stand With Planned Parenthood

It’s a beautiful fall day. Crisp, clear, bright – I’m wearing my favorite comfy sweater. It’s the kind of day I wait all year for. I breathe the deep, sun-warmed air in my car as traffic slows during the commute. No worries, I left myself plenty of time. 

The building is on a beautiful, tree-lined street filled with medical offices. It’s early, there are few cars in the parking lot. I decide to wait a few minutes before going in, but I see an armed security guard enter the building. Even understanding why he’s there, it unnerves me. 

The last time I visited a Planned Parenthood was in the liberal enclave of Northern California. I’m far from there now. 

The guard holds the door for me when I enter and I try to advance through the metal detector. It buzzes and I step back. He wants my I.D. and appointment time, both of which he checks against a sheet in his hand. He also wants to search my purse. “Is that a knife?” he asks. I hold up the miniature Swiss Army attached to my keychain. “Sort… of?” I reply. He grimaces and lets it slide. 

I step through again. The portal buzzes again. We can’t figure out what’s setting it off. “Maybe my nose ring?” I offer, half joking. “Maybe,” he says, not joking at all. 

He hands me my purse and tells me to sign in at the counter. 

After, I sit in the clean, bright waiting area and watch the front office staff go about their business. They’re training someone new. She listens and watches earnestly. Medical staff come in. They greet the guard by name and don’t pass through metal detector. 

There are young women in the waiting area. One looks younger than my daughter and is there with her mother. There are two young men. More back office staff move through. 

I wonder, as I listen to local news talk about robberies and car accidents, what it’s like to come to work everyday and stare at a uniformed, armed man standing between you and the constant threat of irrational violence. How it must be to dedicate your career to healing people and show up to work every day wondering when when your building will be blown up. 

I’ve received services from 5 different Planned Parenthoods in 4 different states. I’ve always been treated with respect and given exceptional care. I stand with Planned Parenthood.

Health Stuff

Authorized steps to new, improved, over-40 life.

Step 1: get a full time career with benefits.

Step 2: use benefits to go to the doctor for first check up in 3 years.

Unauthorized steps to “new”, “improved”, over-40 life.

Step 3: let the nurse practitioner scare the bejeezus out of you with horror stories about your high risk factors for the number 1 health risk for women, heart attacks, and blood clots and stroke.

Dear Dairy, we have to break up. Yes, yes, I will probably still drunk dial you on occasion for what will undoubtedly be a totally regrettable booty call. But I don’t actually see Alcohol that often any more, so don’t count on it.

Meanwhile, me and a food/exercise journal are about to get to know each other really well.

Dear Self

I keep struggling to relate the strange epiphany I had recently. 

As with most epiphanies, it hit me like a ton of bricks and then seemed glaringly obvious.

After my divorce, I decided I was never going to let a romantic partner treat me like a convenience again. There is an argument to made for how selfish my love for him was, but at least I know it was real love. The knowledge that it was never truly reciprocated was devastating, but ultimately survivable. So I dusted off my hands and adopted a meme for a mantra: “I’m not tearing down my walls for anybody. You want in, fucking climb.”

I added the profanity to make it more authentic to me. 🙂

Once I made that leap of logic – that real love was possible and I wouldn’t settle for less than an equal share – I was suddenly extrapolating that to all my relationships with varying degrees of ruthlessness. The outer-circle ties – some friends but even some family –  that had always been so taxing I gently disengaged from.

I applied it to closer relationships, too, and that is a work in progress. As I’ve mentioned here before, love is a verb, and it turns out that most of my family is appalling bad at applying that concept. Realizing that I’ve spent the last 40 years returning and returning to a dry well for life-sustaining nourishment is… well, it’s why I’m back in therapy to be honest.

The epiphany came when I started to understand that expecting my relationships to nurture me meant my relationship with myself, too.

It’s so obvious, right? 

In a culture absolutely obsessed with rugged individualism and “self care”, you’d think that would be the first lesson I’d learn. 

But hold up – psychology has shown us time and again that how we feel about ourselves is directly related to how others feel about us. We’re social creatures and if our social environment is made up of messages of unworthiness, well… 

This is not a new idea. It’s not even particularly revelatory. 

But the first time I treated myself with care and attention and didn’t hear my inner voice desperately trying to justify it in order to keep the messages of unworthiness at bay – that was a revelation. It didn’t come from telling myself to love myself first, or that I deserved anything. It came from doing the hard work of organizing my life to my own benefit. When I say hard work, I mean it all – asking for help, going back to school, getting into therapy, moving, tackling a career instead of a job, and culling toxic relationships from my life. I did all that first, and the feelings of worthiness followed. 

Are following. It’s an ongoing process. 

I wish I’d had access to these lessons 20 years ago. I wish I’d seen self esteem, compassion and equal relationships modeled for me before I turned 40. I wish. 

Time doesn’t move like that for humans, though. All I can do is go forward. And hope I’m showing those things to someone else, starting now. 

Still Burning

We’re coming up on a year since I went mildly viral with a facebook post just before “Justice” Kavanaugh’s confirmation. It got somewhere in the neighborhood of 8k shares across all media platforms, if you count all the copy and pastes because I was hesitant to make it public at first. 8000 is a nothing number in the internet world. It’s barely a blip when a terrible Buzzfeed listicle can get 80k just by showing up. But it was bigger than I had ever seen.

I find myself reflecting on it now and again, though. As I pointed out in my blog post follow up “New Pompeii”, the original piece (belatedly titled “Lava”) wasn’t well thought out or even particularly well written. It came from a visceral place of sorrow and fury as I watched women everywhere despair of our voices ever mattering. It poured out of me on a Thursday night just before I turned my phone face down and went to sleep. By morning it had resonated with a number of friends and by that night it was resonating with their friends. It took about 4 days to saturate. I copied it to this blog where it got a couple of trolling comments and a few more supportive ones. It spiked traffic here for a few days then, as with most things as ephemeral as digital copy, it faded into the background and finally altogether. 

I didn’t attempt to capitalize on my 15 minutes (more like 15 seconds) of fame. Some of that is to do with my own personality and not being comfortable in the spotlight, but some of it is to do with shame. It reads as white, cis, and able. On the one hand, that’s authentic to me – I am all of those things. The fact that it resonated so acutely with so many others only highlights the mainstream nerve it hit. But for the 8k people it resonated with, how many tens of thousands did it exclude? How many women of color, trans women, disabled or neurodivergent women could have told a more nuanced story that would have resonated with better truth? They weren’t silent, and yet their voices were not to be found as readily as mine. That doesn’t negate the cacophony of agreement that came; it’s just something that weighs on me. 

Fortunately, there have been numerous voices in the conversation since. But I think most gratifying to me is that there continues to be the conversation. I don’t think the lava has slowed. I think I was right that the anger would not abate, that it would advance on the subterranean trajectory it was on, and that putting out the fires would become harder and harder. No one I know has, in the past year, become more accepting or more complacent. It’s true I don’t know a lot of people, but I think even a small sample size is representative. I can’t say that we’re moving forward, but I am damn sure we’re not giving up ground. We’re scorching it first. As conflicted as I am about why my voice was heard so far and wide, I am still proud to have helped give form to the pyroclastic cloud emerging from women everywhere.

I believe we are still burning. Slowly, maybe, but just as inexorable as I predicted.

Walking the walk

Two years ago, I thought I’d be on a very different track than the one I ended up on. I wanted very much to get into the Physical Therapy Assistant program at my local college, and I wanted some help paying for it. I got neither of those things. Interestingly, though, the essay I wrote for the scholarship committee ended up being more true than I meant it at the time. Sometimes the truth is buried – even inside yourself. I wrote this in the spring of 2017.

Entering a college classroom at 41 years of age is an act of courage. Can I keep up with these young, fresh minds? Are my study habits hopelessly out of date? Will I get lost in the technology? Can my sciatica withstand small plastic seats? How many times will I have to go to the bathroom in 75 minutes? Will my kid help me with math? So many questions. The advantage, however, is that my survival rate for scary situations is currently 41 years out of 41 years. My kid tells me that’s 100%. Pretty good average, I’d say. And squaring my courage to enter a classroom is less stressful than facing divorce, moving, and getting my daughter graduated from college. All of which are happening right now and all of which I am also 100% surviving. Sciatica be damned – bring it, college!

I’ve noticed that one of the main differences between an 18 year old student and a 41 year old student are their perceptions of time. The former doesn’t have it, while the latter can think of nothing but. I’ve spent a lot of time raising my child, supporting my military former-husband’s career, and working to fill the gaps in our income. Twenty years is a long time to think about everyone’s needs but your own. But it turns out that the question “What do you want?” has a surprisingly ready answer – I want to help people help themselves. I want to be part of their journey of self-discovery and I want to do it in concrete ways that have nothing to do with platitudes and everything to do with measurable results. I want to do all of this right now – without spending another second wondering if I’m cut out for a career of my own or if this is the right move for my family. It’s true that I “ain’t getting’ any younger” but it’s more true that I’m excited and motivated to finally be making decisions for myself. That’s why physical therapy assistant is the perfect career for me. The program timeline is short enough that I can devote myself to it full time, and the outcome is that I get to spend every day helping people accomplish their recovery goals. 

I’m a goal-oriented person. Need to organize a potluck for 100 soldiers and their families? I’m your gal. Wrangling a busload of 5th graders on a field trip to Washington D.C.? I got this. Write a personal essay asking for money? Boom – outline done! I’m good at getting through the process, whatever the process might be. Sometimes the process requires stillness and compassion and experience taught me I can do that, too. Sit with the young mother whose husband is having shrapnel removed 3,000 miles away? That’s me.  New employee overwhelmed by training and nerves? Take a break and lend a sympathetic ear. Kid overwhelmed by finals, life decisions and the end of their childhood as they know it? Cry with them and get ice cream. At least, that’s what I do when it’s my own kid. (Seems to work, though.) The point is if there’s a finish line, I’m going to get there, no matter what. Whether that finish line is getting through the day my husband left, or graduating a college program for the first time – I know I’m capable of doing whatever it takes to make it there. Winston Churchill said something about it being “the courage to continue that counts” and at this point in my life I have to agree. I have enough successes and failures behind me to truly understand that persistence is the hallmark of character.

A large part of my experience crossing those finish lines is that I didn’t do it alone. Many people find asking for help difficult, but I can tell you from experience that it gets easier the more you do it. Learning how to tailor requests to the source is something I’ve learned through trial and error, and I think I have a pretty good handle on it now. Which is why I asked my friends to help me move, and I’m asking this committee for college money instead of the other way around. Also, I have half the time of the traditional, 18 year old student to pay off loans – did I mention the “not getting any younger” bit? I spent the last 20 years taking care of other people, and I’m proud of that accomplishment. Now I’m asking for help while I take care of me.

Having just completed my first semester of traditional college, I can say that the number of times I have to get up to use the restroom in one class period is (usually) zero. The technology is confusing, but not impossible. I still have pretty good study habits and yes, my kid helps me out. I’d rather not talk about my sciatica, but I admit to hobbling out of the classroom behind my more limber, flexible classmates on occasion. It’s worth it. It will continue to be worth it until I cross the finish line, with courage.

Engage

The trailer for the new Picard Star Trek series premiered a while ago and it choked me up. In trying to articulate why, I wasted a lot of time setting the scene – explaining where I was during the run of the show, why it had such a profound effect on my adolescence, and why, despite its problems, it still resonates in my psyche. But none of that really explained why Picard is my captain, and it occurred to me that I don’t have to explain it. He already did.

Picard is my captain because there are four lights.

Picard is my captain because it’s possible to commit no mistakes and still lose, and that is not weakness, that is life.

Picard is my captain because sometimes there are no laws that fit the crime.

Picard is my captain because children don’t belong on the bridge.

Picard is my captain because on his ship, no one is alone. No one.

Picard is my captain because ordering a man to turn over his child to the state is abhorrent and men of good conscience cannot blindly follow orders.

Picard is my captain because I knew what tea, Earl Grey, hot was before the show and it was the key to my heart.

Picard is my captain because being broken down to component parts teaches us our humanity.

Picard is my captain because vigilance is the price we continually pay for freedom.

Picard is my captain because sometimes the line must be drawn here! And other times there can be no justice when laws are absolute.

Picard is my captain because courage can be an emotion, too.

I was a weird kid. While trying to obey the expectations of my family, there were others I wanted to be proud of me. People who embodied ideals that I didn’t necessarily see around me, but nonetheless knew were good and right. I try to live my life in such a way that Captain Picard would be proud of me. I’m hoping that I can measure that against the new series and be validated, or at least encouraged. I’m striving to make it so.