It’s been a while since I’ve been feeling the itch to write, instead opting to lean back against my streetlight and watch the world outside the light it casts. That isn’t to say I haven’t had much to say; in fact, I feel I have too much to say but don’t really care to share it. No, I’ve just been observing life around me, watching the Seven at the Golden Shovel, and wondering who will notice that the shots we need are the ones hanging in the pocket and not dog the nines.
It seems that instead of making decisions people are merely selecting options, and the options are often poorly chosen. Those in place who are responsible for decision-making are far too concerned with how good they will look while choosing rather than how the choices will work for the common good. And how has this happened? Why have we fallen into a place where instead of making hard decisions we would rather make things hard?
When playing pool, a player “dogs the nine” when he or she has an easy shot on the nine (or any shot, really) but misses it due to pressure. Far too often, there will be a simple decision that should have been made but is completely fouled up because the person in charge folds under the pressure. This could be anything from a high-stakes political debate to a school administrator who gives in to parental pressure and doesn’t suspend a deserving student. These should be simple things that should be simply solved but we have created a pattern of complicating simple things in our culture that has paralyzed authority into inaction. Because of this, when some sort of authority does act one of two things will happen: either that decision-maker will over-react or the decision-maker will under-react. The community will then react accordingly.
For example, when this recent school year ended a local school high school came under fire for photoshopping some yearbook pictures. According to the students with photoshopped pictures, it was to make them look more “modest” and it was done inconsistently. Predictably, the media launched on this story and criticized the administration for “slut-shaming” and so forth. Frankly, media and community dogged the nine on this one. When school pictures were taken at this school, students were notified that the district’s dress code would be enforced during yearbook editing and all students are notified of the district’s dress code at registration. This particular school district has a well-defined dress code that is quite reasonable. Students had notification that this was a possibility; they just didn’t realize that they would be the ones caught.
This brings me to another pool-playing term — “hanging in the pocket”. When a ball is hanging in the pocket it means that ball is sitting right in front of, obviously, the pocket. An easy shot. There should be no reason why a person should miss that shot — unless the player dogs the nine. This same high school dogged the nine that was hanging in the pocket during this yearbook fiasco because all the administration had to do was notify the students who were about to have their photoshopped photos printed in the yearbook and allow them the option of having an alternate photograph taken with a digital camera. What a simple way to identify a ball hanging in the pocket and avoid dogging the nine. And yet, they didn’t. And yet, instead hanging in the pocket and recognizing that this was not an issue of “slut-shaming” or forcing modesty and only simple oversight, media and community dogged the nine by making this a larger issue than what it really was.
So why do we do this? I can’t think of one problem that has been solved by this cycle we have created. Instead all we have done is create a culture in which we accomplish nothing by trying to solve everything by shouting directions that go nowhere and then we end up not solving anything.
It doesn’t matter how the game racks up if we scratch on the break.
When I first joined Twitter years ago I made friends with Michael Douglas Jones, someone who I have long admired for his many talents and profound wisdom:
I always speak in the present tense. What else is there?
— MichaelDouglas Jones (@MJonesStudio) May 31, 2014
I was invited by Michael to participate in a blog tour designed to introduce blogs through specific questions designed to unravel the threads from the many phrases and images that are woven on the page. I feel a bit inadequate in the task, to be honest, as I have already gotten the first task wrong — post my response on the correct date. Most importantly, to be recognized by an artist I regard as a true mentor has been both lovely and humbling. I hope that Michael will not regret it.
Michael Douglas Jones studied fine art in Maryland and specialized in trompe l’oeil oil paintings for years before using his current medium, collage and digital composite photography. I have been wanting to own some of his artwork for quite a long time and have told my husband so, but somehow I still ended up with a juicer attachment to my Kitchenaid this last Mother’s Day.
Of course, Michael’s words are just as beautiful as his artwork. He is currently working on his second book Written Receipts for Paid Attention, and his first book, Union, was published in 2011.
Thank you Michael for this opportunity.
What am I working on?
Everything in my life at the moment is a work in progress. Everything from managing my depression and anxiety, raising my children, to balancing the roles between rape/sexual assault victim and survivor. However, all of these works in progress affect my writing and the many bits and pieces of drafts that I have in various stages.
I currently have my first collection of essays in editing — terrifying and exciting at the same time. This essay collection has been more of an emotional barrier for me to overcome rather than a goal to necessarily meet as it has given me permission to free my words. This endeavor is not so much one in which I hope to sell many copies, but to actually see it to completion.
Those who know my writing only through this blog may not know that I also write fiction. My fictional characters are like my “dirty little secret” and not many have met them — they are a quirky assortment of people. They fight for so much space in my head that it makes it impossible to finish any of their stories, and so far I have carried out one storyline to the end and it is incredibly rough. The rest of them are hanging out somewhere in the world of Exposition or Rising Action. One is tickling Climax, which is really a terrible place to be if you think about it.
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
“What do you write?” might be the most puzzling question I am ever posed because I am not quite sure how to answer. I feel quite amateurish in this world and I feel almost like a fraud to even presume to have a genre. It would seem like I were stuffing a bra. Or so I have been told.
I would like to think, however, that my writing is honest and real. What appears on papers or screen is what appears in person. This bothers some. It bothers those who would rather have delicates layered in social niceties, and that is not me. I have passions that will drive my writing and I won’t be censored. There have been times when I have been accused of being “uppity” (my favorite) or uninformed or misguided, any number of things. All of things truly have made me laugh because I can assure these people, as would anyone who knew me, that I am none of these things.
Does this answer the question? I don’t really know. I do know that I write what moves me; I can’t speak for anyone else.
Why do I write/create what I do?
Simple. Because I can. I spent far too much of my life caring and worrying about doing what would be expected in hopes of making other people pleased with me. And failing. Then, after many hardships and heartbreaks, victories and steady realizations, I learned that I can do this. What’s more, I always have been able to do this, so why haven’t I? Once I took ownership over my words again, my creativity, and my truth, I became fire again.
Sure, I could do more to publicize my blog. I don’t fault anyone who does. I have great admiration for those who have blogging their careers and I might turn to them for some advice at some point.
But right now that is not why I do this “writing thing” as my parents call it. I do it because I love it. When the words whisper to me I know it is time to set them down, let them wander about on the page and settle where feel it’s right. It’s about taking the unsettled heart races in my veins and letting them photo finish on screen. This is why I write. I need the silent epiphanies that sometimes come with an ellipses and not a period.
How does your writing/creating process work?
I will finally confess: I am a terrible English teacher. For all the times I taught to edit and proofread I would cringe inside knowing I was saying pretty words that I never practiced. I can possibly count on both hands the amount of essays I have actually edited and proofread before publishing. I can guarantee that the majority of everything written on here was never looked at again by me before I hit “publish”.
Terrible. Everyone is going on an error hunt now, I am sure of it. And the hunt will be prosperous.
Other than failing to proofread, my writing/creating process is erratic and mad — completely fitting for someone like me. I will either have a current event that is on my mind and I will write without stopping about it, so inspired that I have no choice but to allow the words to fall from me. There will be other times when some experience will happen in my own personal life as a woman or mother or citizen that I think is relatable to something else in recent news or events.
Then there are those times when I have phrase turn over in my head for days and days. The kinds of phrases that will take root and slowly grow into something interesting and out comes something that has no choice but to be written. Who am I to stop these words that need to burst?
With all that growing and bursting you’d think I would proofread, but no. No, I don’t. I never learn.
I’ve invited two of my favorites along this blog tour journey with me. I hope you will take a moment to read their bios and visit their blogs. They will be joining the blog tour with their responses next Monday, July 9th.
From Liz Amaya-Fernandez’s blog: Trying to make sense of the world around me. Traveler, parent, partner, health educator, teacher. Attempting to quiet my mind, so I can listen to my heart, and write. I am playing with words, using this space to begin stories, explore themes, and dance with other creative spirits.
Please read her beautiful poetry at Mujerzen’s Blog
The shame has been thrown out to the crowds like Mardi Gras beads lately. There has been fat-shaming, body-shaming, slut-shaming, reintegrative shaming in the judicial system and we even spoke about dog shaming when I took my puppy through obedience school. Yes, dog shaming. On top of this, there has been the usual child-shaming and privilege-shaming, I’ve also heard about breastfeeding-shaming, stay-at-home-mom-shaming and its antithesis: working-mom-shaming.
Everyone is being force-fed a heaping spoonful of Shame and so I am wondering when the big scandal involving Shamer-Shaming will hit the headlines.
This would be an excellent place for me to insert an “obvious while no way to smoothly transition statement” that takes the shape of a disclaimer since I’ve realized lately that there are a few people who aren’t able to detect the difference between sarcasm and/or facetiousness — In no way am I advocating literally making people feel ashamed about themselves and I would never condone the perpetuation of any sort of culture that would allow isolation or even criminal behavior.
However, how much shame is there to go around, really? More importantly, can someone really feel shame without feeling remorse in the first place?
Slate‘s Mark Peters discusses the overuse of “shaming” in his article, “Shame on Everyone”, from October. Essentially, Peters point comes down to this: “Just because you don’t like someone’s criticism doesn’t mean they’re ‘shaming’ you.” A valid point, as Peters concludes:
“We really should restrain ourselves from mindlessly slapping this label on every single thing in the world that makes us feel bad. I’d hate to lose such a potent word to the Buzzword Abyss, especially since real shaming—the kind mostly done by misogynist jerks or terrible parents—is a true disgrace…
“Shaming is probably already finished as a meaningful word.”
Once overused in the lexicon, a word has lost meaning. This has happened to words such as “pervert”, “retard”, “Nazi”, or comparing someone to “Hitler”. Now, if a girl is sent home from school for a dress code violation she is being “slut-shamed”. If someone is told they don’t look attractive in an outfit he or she is being “body-shamed”. If I send my dog into her kennel for a time-out she is being “dog-shamed”. My son is “child-shamed” if he has to apologize to the neighbor for poor phone manners. The juveniles-in-custody are being “adjudicated-shamed” for being on trash duty on the side of the freeway, by the way.
I’m just going to throw this out there for the sake of people being angry and so I can be blog-shamed, but guess what folks? Sometimes, women are sluts. And sometimes, someone is overweight, underweight, or even just unkempt. There will be times when my dog chews up an entire roll of toilet paper, probably on the same day my son is rude to a neighbor. And there will be trash for juveniles-in-custody to pick up on the side of the freeway.
Is a girl who is sent home from school who violates a dress code a slut? Of course not. She is a girl who has violated a well-publicized policy that is common to an entire school district. It would be a policy that is made known to all students at the beginning of the school year along with all the parents and would be included in all registration materials. Does this contribute to rape culture? I am not convinced this contributes to rape culture. If administration were to hold a school assembly, call all students in violation of dress code policy to come to the front of the student body and then pinpoint the problems with their attire, I would say that yes, this most definitely contributes to rape culture. However, a girl who is sent home or who has a yearbook picture photoshopped for a dress code violation is not being slut-shamed. She is being held accountable for a dress code violation.
Administrators are being job-shamed for enforcing a policy that they are required to enforce. How sad that they must be shamed for this. I think everyone should be sympathetic that they are being forced to feel ashamed for doing their jobs as they have no choice but to answer to the school boards who sign their paychecks. In term of photoshopping yearbook pictures, I think we can all agree this was a poor decision made on the part of the administration just as it was a poor decision made by the girls to wear shirts that were in clear violation of the district’s dress code. Nobody is being slut-shamed. Nobody is being job-shamed. I am about to be blog-shamed.
The larger issue at hand is how, as a parent, do I raise my children in a culture that continuously tells people “You can’t tell me what to do, it hurts my feelings”? There must be consequences to behavior, to decisions and to how choices will create effects. Would I ever tell my daughter that she is a slut for a wearing a skirt that is too short? Of course I would never tell her that. But I would tell her that she can’t control what other people think and she can’t stop other people from looking. Is this slut-shaming her? Some will parent-shame me and say that I am emboldening rape culture. Until I can make sure that other parents are teaching their sons that “No means no, Stop means stop” I will make damn sure that my daughter is not their sons’ experiment. I’ve heard all so-called empowering phrases out there, you can’t tell me that sending a naked woman down an alley is at all a swell idea and saying that it’s slut-shaming to tell her to put some clothes on.
Until we are able to have honest conversations with each other about choices and accountability without histrionics over criticism, the animals will continue to run the zoo. People are far too defensive in trying to justify their behavior and are far too unwilling to humble themselves enough realize that they might have contributed to a problem. Until then, nobody seems to be blame but everyone is being assigned blamed.
Perhaps one of the most haunting lines from Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby comes at the end with an image of boats straining tirelessly to edge their way along a path against a current only to be carried further and further away into the past. I had long been in love with the shallow and imperfect characters of Fitzgerald’s creation even before they became in style. I love them because I know them all in a bizarre composition, all different people who try to constantly recreate themselves and their pasts into something different, possibly more pleasing, and all people who can’t seem for the life of them to let that boat drift sail away.
To some extent, we all do this. We all want to remember ourselves a little bit thinner or a touch more cool or athletic. Even NPR recently highlighted this idea in an article about the benefits of “story editing” and coming to terms with tragic events. These are situations that can make sense for some people to want to stretch the truth or to live in the past a bit longer than others. And yet there are others who seem to make living in the past their life’s work. I seem to come from a family who is determined to make this their legacy and I am ready to set sail for more scenic waters.
I have very few aunts and uncles. My mother’s brothers and sisters, except for one, all live in South America (those who are still alive) and my father only has one brother and one sister. Of these aunts and uncles on my father’s side, I have little to do with any of my cousins. Some of this has to do with age, but most has to do with all of these adults persistence in living in the past. As a young child, I had very few family holiday parties or birthday parties due to hurt feelings and gossip stemming from past events that had nothing to do with me yet somehow still affected me.
And so, here we all are now in some semblance of an extended family that is really just an assortment of individuals who watch what they say and do around each other or even how they breathe out of worry that tales will be told back and forth. Realistically, there isn’t a need to be so cautious since tales will be told anyway. What drives this incessant need to whisper behind hands and phone receivers or to delight in kinfolk’s misery? Why must my family tree’s branches be so entangled with cobwebby hurt feelings that refuse to be swept away with time?
The one question I ask myself the most often though would be why can’t the past just be allowed to hit the shore and then be swept out to sea?
Just a couple weeks ago I finally told my father ,”I don’t care”. I admitted to him that I knew and was aware that I am gossiped and talked about in what this hodgepodge group can call a family and I honestly don’t care what is said about me. I have far too much in my life to be happy about and to be concerned over than to fret over idle talk. I also told him that I wished I had that much time in my day to be so meddlesome in other people’s business, but I don’t. There is too much good to be done to waste time doing bad.
And so really, dear family — I don’t give a shit over who is marrying whom and where and when. I hope they will be happy — I truly do. I don’t care who wore what kind of hat, or why someone would say this, or why someone’s engagement broke up — my heart breaks for that sadness. I care about people being happy, healthy, successful, and blessed. Period. Send me an email if you’d like to catch up or get to know me or my kids.
If you don’t, dear family — I don’t give a shit over that either. And I don’t care if you’re offended by the word “shit” either. It’s too beautiful of a day and it’s time to set sail.
I advocate for village-raising of our children almost on a daily basis. I love the concept of shared responsibility in tending after neighborhood children when they are all outside enjoying everyone’s company. If my child is doing something dangerous that would harm him/herself or others, I would hope that another parent or adult would not think to hesitate to intervene on my behalf. I have done the same in situations with neighborhood kids. Sometimes the boys in my culdesac might think I am mean, but it I act out of love and concern when I don’t want them jumping my fences. What if they fell and hurt themselves? I once had a dear friend and colleague who called me very concerned because she thought she saw my son riding his bike over by the freeway underpass (It wasn’t him.) and she knew for certain that was never something I would allow.
When other people intervene in situations regarding safety of my children and they do so out of love and genuine worry, I believe this is what will save us and our world. This is what village-raising encapsulates. This is a far different approach to village-razing which is what I experienced today.
Where village-razers micromanage their own children and, when still not satisfied, will micromanage other people’s children because power trips are just so greedy that way. My little girl and I encountered such a beastly woman today at the mall’s play area, a small playground but my girl loves it. It has a slide with bumps on it and she thinks that is the most wonderful thing. I like it because it is indoors on one end of the mall so I can watch who approaches the area and also watch the doorway at the same time. I take the One-Eyed Moody approach to parental supervision: “Constant vigilance!”
I suppose I have taken the natural environment of the playground environment for granted, or maybe it is plainly too obvious to me, but playground dynamics for children are essential to learning basic social skills. It is not throwing them into guerrilla warfare with no training, people, it is interacting with other children at roughly similar ages. Here they learn how to take turns, stand in lines, navigate social niceties, meeting new friends who then disappear, and dealing with conflict. Ideally, they do all of this without parents interfering unless absolutely necessary. When is it absolutely necessary? Obviously if there is an obvious risk or a heightened emotion that can’t be deescalated without help.
Before I get to the beastly mother who inspired this look from my daughter:
I’ll give some village-raising from the same playground experience today. My daughter quickly made friends with another little girl a bit older than she was and they had a great time. They ran around and went down the slide holding hands. I soon saw the new friend hand my girl one of two barbies from a stroller and thought it was so nice she was sharing. Of course, my girl was delighted and off they played. Until I heard some crying from another little girl. It seems these two barbies were not owned by the child who so freely shared! My daughter, being the youngest and not even three, didn’t completely understand — she hates sharing anyway. (Who does?) The mother of this upset child could have had every right to be upset with my daughter and other little girl for “stealing” the barbies. Technically, they were stolen, right? However, this sweet lady was very kind and patient, knelt down in front of my little girl and thanked her for finding the lost barbie and taking such good care of her. What a lovely way of handling the situation.
Soon after this, in a way that time goes quicker for children than adults, my little one was off and running to do something else. This time she was climbing on the dinosaur bones. This girl loves to climb and hang. All she wanted to do was hang off the eye sockets because, really? Why not hang from a dinosaur’s eye sockets? Until an older kid started peeling her fingers off from inside the dinosaur’s noggin. My daughter was getting upset but I didn’t get up right away. Instead I waited to see if she would need me at all. There are times she chooses to tell off people herself, her expletive of choice at the moment is shouting “4, 5, 6!” in a loud angry voice. However, as I was walking up to her I could tell she was getting more upset and wanted help, especially as this older kid was getting ready to flip over the eye socket from the inside. By this time, she was crying and I was mad! However, just getting angry wouldn’t help anything; this little boy just wanted to play. And so I held my little girl and said to him, “I know it’s hard to understand why she’s sad because all you wanted to do was flip over and she was in your way. But maybe do you think if you waited until she moved she wouldn’t have been in the way anymore?” He was quiet for a minute and then said he was sorry. I didn’t know who his parents were, but later I saw him with his dad who was in his nurse scrubs. He had just come off shift and met his family for lunch at the mall. I bet he was exhausted and here he was playing with his kids. That’s a damn good dad.
As I mentioned, my girl loves the slide. It’s a personal victory for her and she throws her hands up in the air and practically throws herself down to go faster. The slide is pure joy for her and so, like many kids she will sit at the bottom to revel in the experience for a little longer than she probably should. When I consider all the hazardous behavior I see at any given time at a playground, I have not once ever seen a kid who remains sitting at the bottom of a slide cause detrimental harm to other children. Not ever. It will be as annoying as hell, but it won’t actually harm anyone. However, I also allow my children to experience natural consequences. In fact, when we were there today a mother was telling her son to not go down the slide yet because my daughter hadn’t gotten off from the bottom yet. I told her, “Oh no, let him go down. She needs to get a kick in the rump so she learns she can’t just sit there all she wants. A few good kicks and she’ll get it.”
Suddenly all the happiness was sucked out of the room when the beastly mother came in with her daughter. I first thought she ran a daycare after I watched her interact with the other children around her. My second thought was how horrible it would be to have your child have such a beastly woman for a preschool teacher or daycare provider. But then I realized she wasn’t just a beastly woman, she was a real live beastly mother and I couldn’t stop watching her. She would stand at the very top-side of the slide so she could snoopervise each of the kids as they approached the seat. If she saw anyone taking cuts she would order them back into line. Once a kid sat down and slid, she would walk to the front and pick them up and tell them to move out of the way. I didn’t like this at all. My girl didn’t get up fast enough and Beastly Mother barked at her to get up and move.
The mama bear stirred inside me. I walked a bit closer and waited for my girl to go down the slide again. As she went down I quickly picked her up before Beastly mother could and said, “Let’s go back in line before you’re yelled at by a stranger.” That woman barely looked at me and said, “Well maybe if people around here would actually be parenting their children I wouldn’t have to.” It was so smug and snide. So martyrish and self-righteous. I wanted to smack her. I’m small but I’m scrappy.
I said to her, “You don’t know anything about me or any of us here.”
“I don’t have to. All I know is that nobody is parenting…blah blah blah…” somehow, in some bizarre ability known only to repugnant people everywhere when they’re trying to make their arguments valid, their language falls back into gibberish. I don’t know the official name of that language but I think it has a slight variation of the douchecanoe diphthong. I was able to piece together that in her mind, properly-parented children didn’t hesitate to stand up straight away after going down the slide. Or something.
Finally, I had had enough. I pointed out that I had 13 years of parenting experience, a time period that she had spent mostly tripping along in public school matriculation. And while there might be some here at the playground who are not watching their children it isn’t because they aren’t parenting, it’s because they are long past the stage of counting the actual breaths their children are taking. Parenting is not taking away all possible outcomes a child might encounter. It is teaching them the skills necessary to maneuver those outcomes the right way.
Further, I told her, “you’re teaching them from the wrong end. Parenting is about helping them before they’ve even begun to slide. Once they’ve slid, what are you telling them to do? Get out of the way so the next person can have a better chance. Great message, Mother of the Year.”
Still angry with me and my apparent inability to parent, Beastly Mother was only able to stammer. All that was left for me to do was point out, “You’re just being a bitch and you need to back off” and then take my little girl to get some chocolates. Because why not?
I have no doubt that in this woman’s mind she felt she was doing the right thing in taking charge of Operation Playground Slide Safety. I’m sure she still does and will continue doing so. To be honest, if Beastly Mother was not impacting my daughter’s life — even in a small way — I would not have even spoken to her. But she was impacting my daughter and therein lies the problem. I won’t have my daughter’s village razed, even in the tiniest bit. There is already about her world that is torn apart and destroyed in the community around her that I have no control over. As her mother, I will only fight for village-raising. The razers can kiss the slide on the way down.
I will admit that I had no problem tossing off one last farewell comment to Beastly Mother when her kid fell and hit her head. “Man, would you take a look at that? Take your eye off of her for even a second and she got hurt. If only she were being parented…”