Thursday, November 12, 2020
Answering tech calls from my kitchen
Wednesday, October 7, 2020
I wonder if union leadership are listening to how scared we are. I wonder if they realize how many people I see and share air with everyday, so many more than a classroom teacher. I wonder if they know how many people I see without masks at work, maybe because we forget and are human, maybe because we have different assessments of risk, maybe because some of us are just little kids.
I wonder if Field’s air filters look like Farrand’s.
I wonder if anyone will even remember they walked in my office to ask me a tech question that we worked on together for 15 minutes, when they are doing their contract tracing after being diagnosed and trying to think of everyone they talked to.
I wonder if I will bring the virus home to my high risk partner, to his even higher risk mother. I wonder if my department will be eliminated, if I will just take over classrooms as my colleagues get sick.
I am scared, and I am filled with rage that we are in this place.
It would be nice to find someone to blame.
Sometimes I do.
But today I’m going to think about 23 years ago.
I remember how hard I worked to get in a unionized job. I remember what it was like before I was unionized, when I was delivering newspapers or working in restaurants and pyramid schemes, and applying for every union job I saw like they were the ticket to a new life.
Because they were.
At that time in my life, our $1000 union dues would have paid an entire month’s expenses: rent, utilities, 4 weeks of groceries, gas, and still had money left over for two tires, which we needed constantly. Now it wouldn’t even cover one rent payment.
But I would never have made that bargain to drop from the union even when that $1000 went so much farther -- because I knew what it bought me. I knew what it was pulling me out from.
I was sexually harassed at my sleazy pyramid scheme job. I was bullied to do illegal financial things and I was too desperate to be able to say no, and there was no one to even ask for help. No one to even consider talking to -- I was alone.
I paid hundreds of dollars in supplies, car repairs, and more for the privilege to deliver newspapers, and hundreds more in self-employment taxes. I didn’t have anyone to talk to who would tell me how to not get scammed out of my own money. There was no group advocating for us to get the company to chip in for supplies. There was barely an internet at the time, and what was there I could barely afford to use to figure out what I could legally do. I was alone.
My restaurant job threatened to fire me when I called in sick because it happened to be the day after my birthday and they assumed I was lying. Never mind that I had never called in sick, and that I worked with food and had the kind of illness you definitely don’t want a food service employee bringing to work. I had to beg them to believe me, frantically promising I’d do whatever they demanded. I was alone.
When I got my first union job, my husband and I cried with gratitude. It represented dental care, birth control, and a tiny life insurance so I didn’t have to worry about my husband going in debt if I died and he needed to bury me, and rules. The best part was the rules, the safety, the sense that I was no longer alone. That no one could take advantage of me or make me do things that were illegal or unethical.
In that first job, I still was struggling -- this time by a supervisor who wanted me to destroy all the high school library books that had premarital sex in the stories, unless it was rape, which was ok according to her religious views. I developed hives from that working relationship, I hated going to work, where I felt pressured to do things I knew were wrong and where my supervisor clearly was out to get me. It took years to resolve.
But it did get resolved. I was better off than before, and I had never been in danger of losing my apartment, my health care, my ability to buy groceries. I always had someone listening, someone who was trying to make things better. No matter how stressed and upset I was, or how I felt like nothing was changing -- I was never alone.
Every job since then, I have been a little more secure, a little more independent. I was able to buy a home, buy a car, to get divorced, to support myself without a partner. I did not lose all my teeth before 40 like the women I delivered newspapers with, or have to stay in bad relationships to make ends meet, or give in to bosses who were threatening me. I have been safe, because of my union. I was never alone.
I don’t love every decision my union makes as a collective, but I have served in union leadership long enough to know that there is literally no perfect decision in a group this large with so many competing interests. I know how to get more involved if I feel like my voice is being ignored, but I am also thankful for the opportunity to step back and go with the flow when I feel overwhelmed. I know that I can rely on the union as a collective, but I also know the cost of this, the price of being in a group.
Maybe other people with my experience and qualifications in the private sector would be making more money or living more glamorous lives without having to acquiesce to group decisions, since they would be independently marketing themselves to their employers. I find that hard to believe, given how hard employers work to dismantle unions, and given the stories I hear from my friends in the private sector. But even if I could be making more money or only worrying about myself and my needs in a non-unionized job, I wouldn’t want that over what I have being a union member.
Because I remember what it was like being alone.
I’d rather be scared inside of a union of people than scared and alone.
I’d certainly rather be angry with my union behind me, sharing in my anger, than one lone angry voice.
My relationship as a union member has been longer and more reliable than my marriage, or my family. The way some people think, “I can always move back home,” that’s the way I think about being in a union -- I may not have the backup plans and security that other people have, but I have this security, I have this backup plan.
Being in a group sometimes means choices are made not for my benefit, but to benefit others. I have to keep an eye on that balance, for sure. I might need to select new leadership, or take on more leadership responsibilities. But I am a historian and I know what happens in economic upheavals to those who are divided and who have no advocates.
I know that I am not better off alone.
I know that this was the place I was trying to get to, even if it hurts or is crappy for the moment. I trust my past self that fought to get here.
And I’m glad that in this moment of fear and anger, I’ve got my union with me.
Tuesday, November 20, 2018
"My strength is in my legs," he said
But I was still 14, and while I was a little awkward about sitting on a strange boy’s shoulders and chest, I also didn’t care enough to be embarrassed, about how heavy I might be, or how nervous he might be of being able to lift me. I just wanted to shine, to dance and be Baby, but in a tapping crowd.
“My strength is in my legs,” he said. He was older, maybe a senior, maybe named Mark, maybe a swimmer. He was tall, and I was pleased to have been paired with a tall partner. I tried to figure out why he was telling me this. He said something about how he could lift anything with his legs. There was a moment when I wondered, “Am I supposed to go on about how I’m sorry for my weight, apologize, agonize? What does he want from me?”
Either he explained more, or my 14 year old brain, refusing to apologize for a body I enjoyed, found another path — he wanted permission to allow me to sit on his shoulder as he crouched for the lift, rather than expecting him to pluck me up with his arms and place me in position. I was a bit confused, because it seemed so obvious to me that I would sit, and the “lift” was actually a stand. But as a 14 year old girl who had never lifted anything or anyone very impressively, I thought things were obvious that may not have been obvious to an 18 year old boy surrounded by cultural expectations of his upper body strength.
He seemed satisfied with our negotiation, and he crouched, and I sat, and he stood, and I flew.
Most of the negotiations I would have with future dance partners would be so much more tedious, so much more full of angsty self-doubt, and so much less effective. The more I followed the script I thought was expected of me, to be self-deprecating, to offer solutions, to speculate on my partner’s problems...the less my partner and I found our meeting point, and the less I flew.
There is something beautiful about a bit of arrogance, a bit of selfishness, tempered with a wary tongue. If you don’t rush to don accusations, or throw out suggestions, if you stand still, listening with cocked head and quizzical eyes, secure and content in your own borders, the insecurities of your partner may show themselves for what they are, defenses rather than offenses, and the knots of your problem may fall loose at your feet.
Wednesday, January 11, 2017
I loved a man once
Wednesday, November 9, 2016
Turning our heads to the wall
Strangers. The ones that you are taught are dangerous, the only men who will hurt you. Probably dark skinned. You can fight them. You should. You must.
And there are men you are supposed to trust. The ones that live in your house. That work beside you. That sit next to you in class, or hold doors open for you, or say hello when you are at the grocery store. You aren't supposed to fight those men. You aren't supposed to see the way they look at you, or take them seriously when they are just joking, or feel threatened when they are drunk or when they raise their voice at you. Anything untoward you see, anything you hear, from a nice man, a white man, a man you know, is a mistake on your part. You misunderstood.
You get better calming those men. You get better looking out from their eyes and seeing things the way they do. Your body. Sex. The room. The world. You know what will upset him, what he needs to hear and feel and see. You know how to say things that would make you cringe if you saw another woman saying them. Because if you were watching your sister or your mother or your friend say these things, do these things, you would recognize their shame, the shame you learned to stop seeing in yourself.
Appeasing a man.
Because you are afraid of what his anger will damage.
Because keeping the anger from happening is easier than fixing what might break.
When you don't have a grown woman nearby as your ally, you have to weigh the consequences.
What happens if I don't calm him?
Who might get hurt?
How will I get home?
What happens once I get home?
How many other people will know?
We left the bar sometime after Virginia and Colorado were called. In front of me as I walked home alone, an agitated woman in her 20s was talking on the phone and asking if she could spend the night at the apartment of the person on the other end. Her boyfriend was upset over the election, and had decided to stay out and get trashed, and she had not been able to explain to him how the election upset her as well, but how she didn't want to take care of him when he stumbled home, or be around him. He had gotten angry with her for being a drama queen.
What belongs to you, once you have told a man you love him? What do you get to keep for yourself, and not have to surrender?
Is it worth wearing things he doesn't like, or "making a scene" that embarrasses him, or showing your intelligence or success, unless he can prove himself better and smarter and more successful than you? How does he react when he feels intimidated? Insecure? Emasculated?
Will he just belittle you, or will he yell? Will he keep it private, or will it become a spectacle? Will he take out his anger on passerby? How many people are you responsible for protecting in this instance?
How much is a man responsible for the consequences of his emotions, once he has a woman to "take care of him"?
I heard myself a few nights ago, soothing and shushing and changing the subject and not rising to the bait slapped down in front of me, over, over, over. I knew, he is feeling insecure. He is stressed. He is proud. He is hurting. He needs care.
This man isn't my lover. Because I have learned, to a pathological degree, to run from this sensation in a lover.
But how much can we really escape our female programming, no matter how strong we think we are?
I heard myself saying the words, and told myself it didn't matter, because I would get to leave him and lock my door, because I wasn't his wife and could pay my own tab and get home on my own feet and I told myself it didn't matter that I was letting him scream in the street and have a temper tantrum and sneer at me and pontificate about how he, too, was going to run for President.
Run for President.
I laughed when he grabbed me, because we've known each other a decade and he's been there for me, you know? He wouldn't...he just wouldn't.
Run for President.
I cried this morning and my boyfriend listened to me talk about being sexually harassed by a man I was standing next to while wearing a suit, with two powerful women next to us that didn't even hear it. Because you stop hearing it at some point. There's too much. And my boyfriend said, "I believe you," and I cried harder, because I don't believe myself anymore.
What does it mean to love a man when you can't draw the line any more between his feelings and yours, his perceptions and yours, because the ability to see the world through his eyes is what keeps you safe? When you can't distinguish the parts of your sexuality that are you and the parts that are him? When you allow your friend to tell you you aren't as smart as he is, but you run from your lover because you can't predict his next move, and not being able to predict a man's next move is just too fucking terrifying?
I cried this morning, thinking about all of the white men who will feel stronger and more powerful because a pussy grabber is President. Will it make me safer, because they are more confident and not as threatened and emasculated? Or will it put me in more jeopardy, because they will know they can do anything, anything, and because the number of possible victims just exploded, because no matter how hard white women work to appease, they will not be able to protect anyone. Maybe even themselves. I wonder about women voting for that bastard, and I think about me, sitting at that table, trying to calm him down. We can't have them angry. We can't have the world set up in a way that makes them insecure. We need them to feel calm. Shh. Shh.
White women's power comes from her relation to white men. It is a power he has to be in the mood to bequeath. She is his property, she is his reason for destroying other men, a tool, an object. A balm. She cannot stand alone. It is an abomination.
Michael tells me we will all have to toughen up. Hard days are coming.
My first step is not to answer the phone right now, as my white male friend calls to gloat about the election and tell me about his plans to reach the Senate in five years, wrapped up in a "Happy Birthday, let me buy you a drink."
I know there is a good man inside there someplace. I have seen him, I have been his friend for years. But I cannot, cannot appease any longer. Appeasing the upset white man and making excuses for him, and tiptoeing around my stepfather/my friend/the man we should be able to trust.
And this world you are building of humiliation and hierarchies will have to soothe you, and comfort you, and build you up when you feel threatened. The "subjective" values you despise are the ones that could have saved you.
My care is a gift I do not owe you. And I do not know how to fight anymore. The models for fighting are based on the idea that your enemy is a stranger.
But he isn't. He says he is your friend. He says he cares about you. He seems to care, sometimes. But only as long as he feels he is better than you.
Sunday, September 18, 2016
Responding to death
You can't say that you love someone because of how he handles death. You can't say, "When I need to remember why I love him, I remember how he treated me at the funeral." It is morbid. Mocking pain by making it romantic, like you wear black tulle and listen to songs about legendary suicides. But I think it a lot, even though I try to avoid saying it. I don't have the words to articulate it yet, but how someone handles death, how they react to death, process grief, respond to the grief of others...it is important. There is a trueness and a deepness to those moments, cognizant of mortality, that is so foreign to how we live and talk and act in "real life". Like the difference in how we talk and act in our sexual lives - us, and yet very not us at the same time. Wholly apart from the self we present to others on the street. And the self we present in the presence of death - it is again, wholly apart.
In my significant relationships in the past, the intrusion of death was always an incredibly awkward and terrible bit, not only for the loss itself, but for the change in my partner. For the strangeness and discomfort of watching my partner struggle and stumble and be foreign, a stranger to me. Not a person who "did it wrong," merely a person who was a newcomer to the realms of death, or a newcomer to grieving with another. A tourist: fumbling, stiff, detached. Maybe it wasn't a change in them at all - maybe it was a change in me, an unwillingness to continue being intimate once life became too real. But I know, even if I can't explain it, that there are people you want around you when you are grieving, and people you would rather avoid. And I think it has something to do with sensing who is real in those moments, in touch with their own mortality and weakness, and who is, for whatever reason, false.
One of the irrefutable truths about my love for this man is that his familiarity with death puts me at ease. Death is not something he treats as a secret, or an ill-fitted shoe, or a bus tour. It is for him a matter of course. Painful, yet inescapable, and transformative - like growth, or birth. Like waking up slowly, to allow the stiff muscles and joints to stretch. Like coming home to an apartment filled with water, from a window broken by the storm. He knows what needs to happen.
Death is a thing that happens. He doesn't turn into a different person, and I'm not afraid to look at him. I'm not ashamed of him, because he doesn't seem like he is cutting out grief's tongue, or surprised to discover grief can touch him, or acting out a part he expects he should play. He isn't fearless, he isn't always collected, and sometimes he is uncomfortable with his feelings, or with mine. But even if he runs away for a bit, he comes back. And there is a stillness deep inside of him, not of grief shut into a locked box, or barricaded outside of himself, but of grief that has been accepted, that will be acknowledged. A stillness more of a tree than a rock, yet more of a cat than a tree. Seeing, knowing, and considering.
The ability to allow someone beside you to fall apart, and to pick up the role of polite humor to the crowd not from discomfort, but to deflect attention so that person can grieve, undisturbed. The ability to be close, not through what is said but through what is unsaid. The evidence of a life lived in connection with others, relationships spanning decades, skimming along surfaces with charm and kindness because loving others means forgiveness and acceptance. No less rooted than a love that demands exhaustive honesty and constant inspection, but one in which the work of love is done alone, instead of in discussion.
In our responses to death we can see truth about ourselves and our loved ones. We can see the depth of character that is, or is not yet, present in people whom at other times we would judge and classify by traits which at these times fall into insignificance.
Do you know what it means to mourn? Does your desire to connect with a person who is in pain overpower your fear? Jim talked about us all having a boat on the River Styx, and how we may freak out when it seems like someone is dumping water from her boat into our own. I see myself there, in all of the moments I know someone is asking for intimacy I cannot sincerely give to him, and I see men I have known, avoiding connection that they fear might overwhelm them. But even in the moments we choose to connect, we can choose to be sincerely present and vulnerable, or we can choose a level of falseness. And I think one of the lessons age is teaching me, is that being insincerely present is rarely better, for anyone, than being absent.
There is something beautiful about being with a person who knows grief. The kind of beauty in taking a deep breath, feeling the air fill you in forgotten corners, feeling your heart slow and your muscles relax. Perhaps being able to sit next to a person while you grieve is not, by itself, enough to hold a relationship or a friendship together. There are certainly people who were very close to my heart at certain dark times who have drifted out of my life, with whom I'm not certain I could maintain a friendship. There is too little in common between us. But out of anything else I've learned, the ability to find connection in sorrow is the closest I have found in our winding emotions and life paths to solid, true ground.