Year’s End

I hate that I’ve sort of fallen into the habit of reflecting on my year at the end of the calendar. The December to January hand-off has never felt profound to me, nor do I sense anything of new beginnings in the dead of winter. That’s stupid, and bleak. I like the autumnal equinox for that sort of thing, but the past couple of years I’ve been waist-deep in school around that time and I don’t have the mental capacity to reflect on a year’s worth of experience. So here I am, on December 28th, going, “Gee, I wonder how 2017 has stacked up?”

Ugh. To be honest, it’s been sort of a bleh year. Which is fitting actually. I had no idea at the close of 2014 that it would come to represent the start of my personal hellscape. At the time, I thought it was just a particularly rough year. How was I to know that it was ushering in a whole new paradigm of betrayal, loss, depression and self-doubt? But when all those things (and more! so exciting) happened in increasingly large doses throughout 2015 and 2016, I think my perception of “awful” changed. I mean, really. Things can only be “off the charts” for so long before you get a new fucking chart.

And so 2017 – the first year of the Trump presidency, the year of the Las Vegas shooting, some terminally pregnant giraffe, superstorms that nearly wiped out the entire Caribbean, a solar eclipse and #MeToo – just doesn’t feel like it really rates at the bottom of my new chart. My chart is impressive as fuck and 2017 just didn’t bring it’s A-game. Not that it didn’t try – getting turned down for my school was cutting and accepting a decidedly less attractive goal was bitter as hell, but some good things happened, too. Moved to our new place with the furry family intact, made good grades in school, made new friends. Got my car busted up in an accident, but walked away unscathed. Relearned what it feels like to be broke, but also got hired at an interview which was a first for me. 2017 was too evenly balanced, too much like “normal life” to deserve an adjective like “bad”.

Still, it was notable. It’s the year my divorce was final. The marriage was over long before, but for the rest of my life, the date of my divorce will be a legal requirement for me to remember. That sounds fun. It was the year I let go of a toxic yoke that’s been defining me for most of my life. Self-determination is heady enough to make 2017 memorable. It’s the year I stopped apologizing to myself for who I am. I also really started coming to terms with the fact that I need to be alone for the foreseeable future.

I recently told a young friend the story of how women who turn 40 get the superpower of becoming invisible. Men stop leering, media becomes silent, cashiers and cops alike stare over your head like they’re not really engaging with you so much as shuffling you along. Women who turn 40 become invisible, except, maybe, to each other. But it’s this marvelous shield that protects us from judgement or even observation. It’s liberating and fascinating and a little scary, and really not conducive to dating. I’m okay with that. I miss sex (like I’d miss a limb, goddamnit), but I’m not willing to engage in any of the compromises which attracted men to me in the past.

2017 was the year I decided to stop doing other people’s emotional labor. I know that sounds like a trendy, pop-psychology term, but it’s a real thing. If you’re not familiar with it, look it up. It’s exhausting. Dropping that habit is, for me, the equivalent of getting two extra hours of sleep every night. I’ll probably make a few missteps while I find my equilibrium in this new normal, but if 2017 has one major thing going for it, it’s the realization that I am not required to manage any one’s emotions but my own. The unpacking of that particular piece of baggage deserves its own post, but for now, my relief borne of this knowledge is enough.

So. This week will be gray and drab and boring and frozen as the calendar inserts an arbitrary start date for a new year. The clock will start on a new set of lessons and trials and maybe triumphs all gathered under the same numerical heading. My dearest wish for 2018 is that I’ll be too busy this time next year to sit down and reflect on it.

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Not doomed to repeat it – doomed to never escape it.

I had occasion today to reflect that we may well be into the most turbulent and divisive times this country has seen since the 60s. And I think I meant the 1960s, but it’s possible it will get worse before it gets better and I might end up meaning the 1860s. That’s not hyperbole, that’s me paying attention.

First, I have only to pay close attention to my own situation: the most precarious I’ve ever been in, including my stint as a single mother working for just over minimum wage in the 1990s. At the time, I lived in California and there was both a state sponsored social safety net and my nearby family to help me out. (I availed myself of both at different times.) Now I have neither of those things. I am middle aged, uninsured and suffering from untreated health conditions, in the midst of retraining for a relevant career that at best will garner me lower-middle class wages for the rest of my life (at a student loan rate that, thanks to last night’s Senate vote, I’ll be unable to claim tax shelter from), and scraping together the money to pay my bills each month by virtue of a limited divorce settlement, selling my plasma and relying on my adult daughter to make up the difference.

Meanwhile, I and many of my peers wait for access to unfettered internet to expire and watch our government pass laws to both keep us in poverty and destroy the environment around us.

And I have it pretty good. I eat regularly, I can get out of bed unassisted, all five senses are in working order, I just got a part time job and enrolled in classes for spring semester. I have friends, heat, a working vehicle, and a computer. There are people I care about who can’t claim any of those things.

Those are just the personal stories. Every day I watch the government and my neighbors tear each other apart over disagreements about human dignity and as much as I see it happening in real time I still can’t quite wrap my head around it. The aging population – the ones who stuck daisies in gun barrels and marched for civil rights and sent men to the moon and brought them back from war and created art and literature that changed the world – have become scared of their own shadow. They, and in some instances their children, when faced with video evidence of police brutality and an avalanche of numbers about corporate greed, lash out at victims and claim that evidence is “fake news”. They rewrote history books to call the transatlantic slave trade “immigration” and they put spikes on benches to keep the homeless on the ground – or in it. They stand in pulpits and preach hate, then hide behind their god and cry persecution when contradicted. They steal future and resources from their grandchildren and blame iPhones.

We tend to look back and history and see what progress was made. That’s called survivor’s bias. Some people didn’t survive the 60s. And I don’t mean the graves that we keep sacrosanct or the bank holidays we use to sleep in. I mean plain, simple, everyday people didn’t survive. They starved to death. They died from abscessed teeth. They asphyxiated in garages. They slid off roads with no guard rails. They drank until their liver gave up. They got cancer from lead paint. And before they died, they suffered. Their families suffered. Some daughter, somewhere, watched her daddy get a toothache, be unable to afford or access a dentist, watched his face get puffier and puffier, until one day he got a fever, fell asleep and never woke up.

Once, we considered that kind of suffering beneath human dignity – both his, and our own. I guess we don’t feel that way any more. I wonder if I’m destined for an end as undignified. If any of my friends are. I fear it’s quite possible.

I don’t know how to explain to you that you should care about other people. In some cases, the argument isn’t that there is a large segment of our population that doesn’t care, but that they aren’t even willing to admit that their actions effect other people.  They are so concerned with protecting themselves – from injury, insult, or intelligence – that they will pull out an endless chain of excuses as to why “others” deserve what they get, but “I” is a protected class. They are so isolated by their fear of change, their fear of losing their privilege, that they have developed an entire system of blindness to the indignity of their fellow humans. And then they elected people who capitalize on it.

I used to be interested in history. I used to wonder about the mindset of people who went to public executions. I don’t wonder anymore, and I realize that this is history – right now.

I set myself a challenge.

I’ve been thinking about how my definition of difficult has changed.

I used to do difficult things because I felt I had no choice. In some instances I didn’t, and in others, I took one difficult choice because I was scared of the other. If there is a gift to be found in the last two years, it’s learning to recognize that.

Despite my effort and hard work, it’s looking more and more likely I won’t be accepted into the academic program I applied to.  I honestly believe it’s not me – I followed the application instructions scrupulously and my grades are exemplary. But it’s a highly competitive program and there are, on average, three times as many applicants every year as places. I set myself a very strict financial timeline – I don’t know why I did that. Part of it was just the old habit of setting impossibly high standards for myself, and believing if I couldn’t meet them then I was obviously not worthy of the reward. Which is so, so conceited of me. As though I’m in complete control of all the variables and I’m either perfect or worthless – nothing in between. Old voices, I guess. The other part was just being ignorant of how this process can play out. I’ve never been a divorcee in my 40s with little education and no innate talent before.

But a brief survey on Facebook of potential career paths that would fit into my timeline proved to me that my first choice is actually my dream, inasmuch as I can be said to have a realistic one. I mean, obviously my dream is to hitch a small camper to my car, grab my dogs and my camera and take off to parts unknown. Perhaps then, it would be better to say that my “realistic dream” is really my goal, and I just so happened to choose one that is difficult to obtain.

I’m unused to assessing what is difficult but achievable, and what is impractical to the point of impossible. (See above statement about conceit and inexperience.) But part of the process of reordering my life is to be honest with myself about my ranking. I’m not stellar or exemplary at anything, but I am good. Certainly I’m good enough for the path I’ve chosen. And if the first pass doesn’t yield results, doesn’t my devotion to myself, my future, deserve another try?

So maybe this is my new difficult. Trying again. All-or-nothing thinking has been a part of my life since infancy. Both nature and nurture conspired against me in that department. And sadly, my life up to this point always felt like it was balanced on a knife’s edge of precariousness, with no room for second chances. In all honesty, sometimes it really was. Single parenthood leaves little room for mistakes, and the one time I entered into a relationship with no back door was the one time I really needed it. But here I am now, with no one but myself to answer to and my life is less on a knife’s edge and more on a curb. A fall off a curb at my age could hurt me for a long time, but it won’t slice me and everything I love to ribbons.

Saying “a dream deferred” is so pretentious, but “a goal delayed” feels too mundane for the risk I’m taking. I’m old enough to recognize what a slog the year of delay will feel like – I know there’s no exciting plot twist waiting for me there. But that’s not the difficult part. The difficult part is keeping my chin up, remembering that I am good enough, and not to let a lifetime of combined conceit and worthlessness throw me off my path. It’s a different kind of difficult.

Sorrows and Deep Sighs

The world is bona fide mess.

Our president has tacitly threatened nuclear war on the one other country in the world with a leader stupid enough to retaliate. The institution of police have openly embraced their role as blue terrorists in our communities. A series of catastrophic hurricanes is steadily destroying lives and nations in the Caribbean. Hundreds of thousands of refugees are struggling to survive.

My tiny, insignificant corner of personal misery isn’t much by comparison, but it’s everything when my own mind is no refuge from the wretchedness. The only solution I can think of is to put my misery to bed.

The end of my marriage came without my consent, or input of any kind, really. My husband simply left – emotionally and verbally if not physically. No matter how I begged for communication, he simply stopped talking or acknowledging my role as his spouse in any way. All of my anger, all my despair, centered… no, centers, to be fair, around the loss of my agency. To this day, I seethe with frustration over never being able to confront our problems head on.

But that was his entire goal.

If he never accused me of failing him, then I couldn’t accuse him back. He wanted a do-over without consequences. Because to him, ignoring our 12 years together means they didn’t happen the way they really happened, and without my input to contradict, he can remember them any way he likes. My real failings become imagined in whatever way suits his narrative. My real quirks become monstrous or nonexistent as fits the story he wants to tell himself (and the next woman). My heartache, too.

While I have real regrets and real sorrow and real hurt, my worst pain comes from my erasure. There is nothing I can do to make myself relevant in his life again, for good or ill. I’ve long since let go of my love for him, but becoming invisible to the single person I trusted with every corner of my soul? That’s a betrayal I might never recover from. No matter what indictments I can throw his way (and there are plenty), the crux of my misery rests on the helplessness of being invisible.

And that’s on me. Because I knew he didn’t really see me. I knew it, and I chose to make excuses for it. When he insisted on portraying me in ways that were inconsistent with my perception of our relationship, I objected – in the beginning. But when those objections were met with “I’m just teasing”, I backed off. Because I didn’t want to perceive my role as humorless. I wish I had. I wish I had been perceived as humorless instead of whatever was in head. At least then there would have been a modicum of truth to it.

Instead, I dove into the dark spaces between what I knew was real and what he would acknowledge. There was peace in not having to talk, and I embraced it wholeheartedly. I was tired. I’d spent my entire life navigating emotions for people too damaged to do it on their own and I was just fucking tired. What he offered was freedom from that, and I accepted.

And that’s on me, too. I was tired, I was lonely, and I made a fatal mistake out of weakness.

It’s happened to better people than me, but strangely that doesn’t bring me much comfort.

My misery may be tiny and insignificant in the context of the world, but it’s also tiny and insignificant to the other person who might have shared it. I am a myth to the only other person in the world I wanted to be completely real with. I let go of him a long time ago, but it’s time to let go of the frustration surrounding my erasure. I will have to come to terms with the truth of my failings on my own, and maybe that’s as it should be. There was a saying in my house growing up – You’re the only one you have to look at in the mirror.

I’m the only one staring back. That’s enough.

Help is a Four Letter Word

It was almost a year ago that I shared a funny story with my therapist. I was trying to illustrate the inherent stubbornness of my nature. (Some would say willful obstinance and that’s certainly their prerogative. Ahem.) It’s a story from my childhood that I’ve shared and laughed at for over 30 years.

When I was eight, we moved neighborhoods but not school districts and it was the day for me to walk home by myself for the first time. Unfortunately for me, it was also “clean out your desk” day and back then they gave you a cheap garbage bag and a thumbs up while you stuffed 40 years worth of paper worksheets into 3 cents worth of perforated plastic bag. I set off confidently enough, but got turned around fairly quickly until I was well and truly lost. I wandered for a long time. Crying, trailing snot and a torn bag behind me, strewing old papers in a pathetic wake along suburban residential streets, I wandered in what was most likely circles, and given the length of my legs at that age not even big ones. It felt like hours and hours to my little girl mind, though in reality it probably wasn’t more than one hour, at most. But I was scared and worried and I kept on walking.

That’s the salient point in the story, as I’ve always told it. I kept walking. I didn’t knock on any doors to ask for help. I definitely didn’t sit down and wait for someone to find me. Oh no – I stubbornly snorted back my snot and kept going! Because even at eight years old I was an obstinate, willful thing! Ha ha, isn’t that funny?!

My therapist chuckled a little with me, but asked, all guileless and with genuine curiosity, “What would have happened if you had just sat down?”

And my brain’s gears came to a screeching halt while I stared at her, dumbfounded. No one had ever asked me that in 30 years and it definitely wasn’t part of my story. This is supposed to be the part where we all laugh at what a perversely dogged child I was, so I just looked blank while my brain struggled to change direction. Then my emotions caught up before my head did and I was choking on a flood of tears while I struggled to get the words past my closed throat. “I’d still be sitting there.”

It ate up 15 minutes of my therapy hour before I could breathe again. Before I could face the fact that at eight years old, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that no one was coming to save me. I knew that if I wanted to get home, it was up to me.

As it happens, my stepfather was out looking for me, and we eventually ran into each other and he took me home in our family car. But while I was relieved to be going home, I was also nervous about getting in trouble for getting lost in the first place. Because that’s my family’s legacy – self-sufficiency to the point of an eight year old fearing punishment over getting lost.

This was a family who loved me. My parents (and extended to aunts, uncles and grandparents, such as they were) loved me and wanted me to be happy. They absolutely wanted my safety and happiness above all else. But the execution was poor. They were lacking in tools, they had wrong information, and to a certain extent were just too fucking selfish to do the job of making me feel secure and protected. I honestly felt, at eight years old, that was my job.

I’m still unpacking the pain that one not-so-innocent question revealed in me, not least because those same people are still failing me.

I kept on feeling that way – through adolescence, teenage years, and well into the time when another human’s safety and happiness depended on me, I felt that I could only count on myself and had only myself to blame when it all went to shit. No one was coming to save me. Ever. I inherited my family’s selfishness completely. My world was entirely my own, only my own actions mattered, and all the blame belonged to me.

That’s a difficult life to lead. It’s even harder when you add in a confused, lonely man who thought he wanted to “rescue” me but really just wanted me to apply my control-freak ways to his life, too. Still trying to portion out the blame appropriately for that one.

I lived my entire life not understanding that there is supposed to be a certain amount of help and support when you ask for it. Is it any wonder I chose someone so spectacularly bad at giving it when I finally let myself ask? I still struggle with the concept! For children, it’s supposed to be unconditional. I missed the children’s boat. I know adults who are still trying to catch it and it makes me sad and a little impatient for them. That’s their journey and I try to remember it’s not helpful for me to judge it.

But it turns out there’s a boat for adults. There’s a life raft when you need it, a cruise liner, sometimes a private yacht. There are people who know how to say the right thing at the right time, whether it’s encouragement or a reality check or nothing at all. Sadly, I didn’t marry any of them. But today, I asked for help and a lot of people jumped in to offer it. They can’t go back for the lost eight year old with the torn bag of school papers, but they are here for me now.

I don’t subscribe to the “everything happens for a reason” bullshit line of reasoning. But I do think that our minds are built to make order in chaos, and to jigsaw the randomness of life and the universe into some sort of cohesive meaning. So I don’t think that my husband needed to be a lying coward who would rather burn our lives to the ground than admit he made a mistake, but since he was, I’ve been given the opportunity to learn about what constitutes help, when I deserve it, and who to ask for it. And that’s not a bad lesson to take.

Joys of Snack Size

A year ago, I wrote about the Dissolution of Snacks and its somewhat surprising mark on my journey through grief and the loss of my marriage. Today I want to talk about the joys of snack size.

I moved, you see. Downsized from 2400 square feet to 900 square feet, with all the attendant miniaturization of appliances one would expect. My plates don’t fit in the surprisingly tiny cupboards so the door never completely closes. It’s annoying. Peek-a-boo, I see you snarky little reminder of a once bigger life. I keep giving it side eye, like the cupboard is suddenly going to feel shame and quietly swallow the back of my plates so the door can shut completely. (If that happens, the nature of this blog is going to change drastically.)

The refrigerator is tiny. I can see the top without standing on tip-toe and it lacks a meat drawer. I thought I’d feel bad about that, because I’ve spent so long filling up a family-sized fridge that even after the family was downsized, I was still trying to fill it up. Like the refrigerator itself was making my shopping list based on its capacity. But here’s the thing – I don’t feel bad at all. Right now apartment-fridge holds a bag of pre-chopped salad, a 6 pack of flavored water, a bottle of wine and the smallest size sour cream you can buy. I honestly didn’t know they made sour cream containers that small. It’s adorable. It’s me-sized. It won’t get gobbled up by my housemate because somehow I raised a person who doesn’t care for sour cream. It is mine all mine. This is notable because two years ago I would open up the fridge to use a spoonful of sour cream out of the GIANT ASS TUB I bought three days prior only to find it gone, sacrificed to the lunch nachos my ex-husband was so fond of. I would buy industrial sized vats of sour cream and there would NEVER BE ANY when I wanted some.

Today, I had sour cream. A small amount, out of a tiny cup that I bought four days ago and that nobody has touched in the interim. I felt like the star of a commercial that plays during Gray’s Anatomy – some ideal of a single adult woman who delicately spoons out a condiment and never once wonders where it could disappear to if she’s not guarding it.

Likewise I find myself hanging pictures in my bedroom without regard for how they’ll be accepted by my bedmate – a sixty pound mutt of dubious artistic taste and even less preference. Pens go where they are most convenient for me, as do batteries and wash cloths. A brief survey of the other members of this household revealed that they don’t particularly care where I put my shoes, so long as three of them can stick their snouts in the really stinky ones and the fourth need not trip over them. I share my closet with no living thing, and even better, no ghosts.

After years of anxiously verifying my choices with another person (especially when that person had opinions but only reticently shared them – preferring the more quixotic option of silent resentment when I couldn’t read minds), the peacefulness of feathering my own nest can’t be overstated. The delight in single serving anything will never be taken for granted by me again. It’s mine all mine, and ghosts don’t eat sour cream.

Drinking Beers and Smashing Bottles

Where does one draw the line between reasonable conversation and the end of compromise?

This is a question that has been on my mind a lot lately. I recently ended contact with some people who’d been in my life a long time because I had reached the end of compromise on certain issues. But then I turned around on social media and advocated for diplomatic solutions to diametrically opposed political and social stances. How do these thoughts coexist? Can they?

My answer is yes, but with caveats that require unpacking privilege and identifying context.

In defense of bad advertisements

Social beverages, like soft drinks and beers, have recently decided to enter into the public conversation of social discourse, with mixed results. Pepsi and Heineken have both received a lot of free publicity by both enraging and encouraging the consuming public with recent advertisements. Pepsi with a cringe-worthy, tone-deaf, white-washed ad of stunning incompetence meant solely to cash in on the lives of victims. It was universally regarded as awful. Heineken followed suit with an ad that ostensibly posed the question about whether or not people with diametrically opposed political views could enjoy a beer and talk about their differences. While met with different responses, it has been (rightfully, in my view, but more on that later) criticized for also being tone deaf and irresponsible towards victims.

Full disclosure: I liked the Heineken advert. It spoke to that place within me that yearns for diplomatic responses to seemingly insurmountable differences and wishes very much I could be the kind of person who engages people in reasonable conversation and (if I’m being honest) emerges the hero by changing minds with my wit and charm and ability to connect with other humans.

It’s important to note, however, that I’m not particularly victimized by opposition to my ideological stances. I’m a white, middle-aged, straight, (nearly) middle-class, able-bodied, (mostly) neurotypical, English speaking, American cisgender woman. I mentioned in my original analysis on the commercial that people who are victimized or even marginalized by their social/economic/biological position are under no obligations to respond diplomatically to their oppressors. I believe that strongly. As a woman who has been silenced most of her life by patriarchal views on my “place” in society, I am in favor lashing out when backed into a corner.

On wielding a sword 

In my personal life, I recently reached the end of my rope trying to deal with relatives who hold opposing ideological views and insist that we share reasonable and “respectful” conversations about it. I’d had about as many quiet, diplomatic conversations as I could have with someone who used those conversations as a tool to further their agenda without actually listening to mine. Who brow-beat me with the idea of “respect” where respect meant I couldn’t express my anger or hurt or disappointment that they would espouse – and more importantly vote – for policies that actively threatened my loved ones.

So I got angry. I yelled (or at least used the caps-lock equivalent), I stopped validating their perspective, and I definitely stopped sandwiching my criticism between affirmations and compromise. I pulled out my firebrand persona and let loose with the sort of vitriol that I felt was absolutely called for when facing viewpoints that maintained a status quo of oppression and bigotry. In the end, they offered to never communicate with me again, and I gratefully accepted. I was and am convinced of both the rightness and appropriateness of my response. A response that is about as far from discussing our problems over a friendly beer as one can get.

The cognitive dissonance dance

The most conspicuous criticism I’ve seen against the Heineken ad was that the premise gave equal credence to unequal premises. In other words, the sort of false neutrality that the alt-right is famous for advocating, and, not coincidentally, why I recently cut off family members.

So, why did I advocate for representation of a diplomatic response? And a clumsy, ill equipped one, at that? Context, for one answer, and privilege, for another:

I’m not disadvantaged in the way that so many of my friends and family are. I’m not going to be immediately, physically threatened by the presence of an anti-trans bigot, or a climate change denier. Given my numerous other privileges, I’m not even particularly threatened by an anti-feminist blow hard. When I superimpose myself onto those positions by giving in to the manipulations of a 3 minute advertisement, it creates a context that makes it easier to imagine being able to talk about it.  It lightens my burden of self-examination and transports me to setting where real danger isn’t happening to real people.

The problem, of course, is obvious. And while the commercial may have been targeting people like me, it was speaking for people who are regularly victimized by their ideological opponents. The result was a statement on the irrelevancy of those victims, and it stung those who recognized it right away. It should have done the same for me. As a friend put it, a company with the economic resources of a multinational beer distributor had the ability to not make that statement (intentional or not) and should have done better. The fact that so many people find themselves analyzing the content (and, I dearly hope, their response to it) should be a strong indicator that if a company with that sort of reach wants to weigh in on social issues, it had better get it right the first time. The idea isn’t enough. The execution matters. Context matters. Privilege matters.

Speaking for myself only, I am privileged to be in a position where I can talk to dissenting people with a reasonable expectation of safety. A better context for Heineken’s intention would have been to put someone like me in a room with the anti-trans person and let us drink and talk. Those are ideological differences. An actual transperson or feminist woman of color is not going to feel safe in real life sitting across from someone who denies their right to exist and who is also diminishing their inhibitions with alcohol. (That part was weird to me from the start.)

I vehemently disagree with the assertion I’ve seen circulated that it’s “stupid” to like the Heineken ad. It’s not stupid to advocate for diplomatic solutions to ideological differences. It’s how politics work, it’s how we manage to not murder our neighbors, and how we keep from becoming totalitarian societies. Taking the ad at face value, however, is imperceptive at best, as I hope I’ve demonstrated here. Diplomacy doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Criticizing Heineken’s failure to acknowledge the real dangers inherent in some of our differences is appropriate and necessary, as is identifying the dangers of promoting solutions that begin on false equivalency. But since progressive liberals don’t seem poised to unleash a violent revolution, a framework for discussing tenable, peaceful solutions to resolving those differences also seems appropriate and necessary. At the very least, Heineken’s wishful thinking advertisement pointed out that the lack of such leaves a void many of us would like to see filled.