A thousand widgits

He had to keep at it, Even though it was turning him into a monster. The years of the 12 ounce curls had transformed him into something and someone unrecognizable. Was he even human anymore? He had the basic shape, but his skin was more reptile than recognizably human. Green and bumpy, he looked alien, foreign, and in reality he was. He has transformed himself into a creature that existed to feed its ego only. Anything he wanted he got – begged, borrowed, or stole. He wasn’t ashamed to guilt trip or manipulate. He used every trick in the book, and even added a few pages of his own.

Now he had gotten the council to give him an assistant to follow him around to cater to his every whim. Sometimes that was walking him to the pub and holding up his pint for him since he could no longer see for himself.

His eyes had swollen shut in a vain attempt to protect him from further harm. They figured if he couldn’t see, he wouldn’t want. So much of human “need” comes from what pours into the eyes. It is why people who give up watching TV (either voluntarily or not) end up saving money. It wasn’t just the cable bill they were doing without. They were doing without all the ads telling them what they were missing out on, telling them they would find love and acceptance and community if only they bought this thing that they didn’t even want or knew existed 10 minutes earlier.

And now he was part of that industry, that machine, cranking out 1000 widgets a minute, creating the supply first and then the demand. He was a spokesman for these fellow monsters, who weren’t yet ugly on the outside but were certainly ugly on the inside.

(Written early August 2019)

True health.

The air raids continued, but so did the entertainment. When the war had finally crawled to their shores, finally climbed in fits and starts over their borders, the citizens knew that life as they knew it was over. The first few weeks they stayed inside, huddled around the television for news of where the riots were. They planned excursions based on these reports. It wouldn’t do to go to the grocery store or church and run into a firefight.

Work was quietly canceled for the first week. Who could be expected to even try? Work then was all about staying alive in the moment. Who could take the time to worry about spreadsheets or stockrooms? But then the reality set in that this wasn’t a temporary thing. The invaders had settled in for the long haul. They planned to take this land no matter what – even if that meant destroying everything and everyone on it.

After a month of living under siege, the citizens knew they had to keep on going with their lives. They had resumed going to work – they had to once the paychecks stopped coming – but it was only now that they understood there was more to life than work. Entertainment wasn’t simply a distraction or diversion – it enriched life. Perhaps it could be said that they worked so they could afford to play.

And play they did! Movie theaters were re-opened, converted into cabarets and live theater And symphony halls. Colleges were converted into lecture halls for everyone, not just the paying students. All were welcome, and there were no tests or papers to write. People carried on with their lives, not in spite of, but perhaps because of the violence in the streets. They had no control over that, so they celebrated even more when they were able to make it through a complete performance. Many were the shows they got cut in half, with the cast or audience having to disperse because of insurgents coming too close. Rarely would the violence spill inside but it wouldn’t do to risk it. So the people left rather than draw the attention of the fighters to their secret.

And it was a secret, these diversions and entertainment. They were carefully curated and prized. They weren’t random. They had to be planned for and scheduled. It wouldn’t do to go a week without a gathering of some sort so it was important to make them good.

The people had come to understand that the source of their joy wasn’t how much money they made, or what football team they rooted for. It was in being together. Groups of like-minded people together – united by a common interest – were happier and healthier. Something about simply being together made them whole in a way they could never be alone.

But the gas masks still needed to be worn. It wouldn’t do to undergo a chemical assault while they were communing. Because that is what was happening – communion, union-with. Only together, with others, could they feel the peace of union, where they were no longer torn in two, fragmented. They needed each other in a symbiotic, inter-dependent way.

That was why all the mass murders from the past had happened in densely populated arenas. Those who felt alienated, excluded knew down in their core that the people who were gathered together had something they missed. Jealousy clouded their hearts to the point that they couldn’t see that they didn’t have to kill anything – except their “need” to be alone. Their cure would have taken place if only they had sat down with all these people and joined the group. Instead they had swallowed the poison of the message of independence, which taught them to be lone wolves, leaderless, a pack of one.

This message was taught to them by billboards and television and magazines, and stories and in songs, because the pushers of this drug also sold their version of the cure – to be found in pills, or alcohol, or retreats, or yoga, or a diet, or a religion or even spirituality. They caused the dis-ease in order to sell their “cure”, because true health was free and that wouldn’t do in a culture that saw money as its God.

So in a way, the war had healed this community. It had showed them what really mattered.

(Written late July 2019)

Aliens

The aliens were everywhere. They had been “immigrants” or “ex-pats”. They thought they had psychological issues and went to see the psychiatrist (who was in the old days called an alienist.)

They weren’t crazy. They weren’t normal though, and that was the point. Normal people were miserable. They complained more than they thanked. They weren’t happy with what they had, no matter what it was, even if it was what they had wanted. They had been programmed to minimize their success. Only complaining was allowed.

Saying things like “I’m good. I’m really blessed. I love my work and my family. I have a great life.” was met with suspicion if not outright incredulity.

So the aliens came, in the form of gods or rock stars or TV talking heads or even self-help gurus. They came to teach a better way but the people were so used to being sick and tired and anxious that they just couldn’t believe they didn’t have to be. They were so used to being half that being whole wasn’t normal to them. Especially when they were told that they didn’t have to do anything – not take a pill or eat a root or even exercise. They just had to accept the new Script that they were healthy. “Fake it till you make it” had become fake it in order to make it. They had to reprogram themselves, to learn that they were not broken, not damaged, not addicted.

Society told him otherwise, because sickness is marketable. Dis-ease has a dollar sign. The well don’t need a doctor after all.

So the aliens came, not to invade but to immunize, to inject a vaccine against melancholy and mediocrity. But they had to be sly about it, because the natives had been programmed to kill all aliens, all “others”, all those who were different or strange, because that was how the disease replicated.

(written mid July 2019)

Women's lives do not need commentary.

Another part of the reality of being female is that people think they have the right to comment on what you do / say / think / create. This can be from friends, family, or strangers.

Everything we do is viewed as open to opinion and comment.

Topics cover: (this is not an inclusive list)

How we wear our hair:

Short, long, traditional, modern, colored.

Shaved or long.   

If we chose to cover our hair.

What clothes we wear and how we wear it:

Whether our clothing is new, old, in style, unique.

Whether we show “too much” skin or not enough.

Whether our clothing is tight or baggy.

What jewelry we wear, or not.

Everything else:

What we do for a living.

Whether we are married or not.

What our religious beliefs are.

What we create, or not.

If we have children or not.

Our body size / shape.

We are not asking for opinion or comments. We are simply living our lives.

Women receive far more unsolicited opinions than men, about every manner of thing. Men feel it is their right to tell women what they think, whether we asked for their opinion or not.

Not all men are like this.  However, enough are that this is a problem for all women.  Every single woman has experienced unwanted attention from men in the form of unsolicited opinions and comments on what she does, says, or creates.

Every. Single. Woman.

If you are a man and you do not think you have done this, thank you.  However – it doesn’t hurt to consider your actions, not matter how innocent or helpful you may think they are. We all can use improvement. What you think is harmless may be received otherwise. Remember, how the other person experiences your actions is what matters the most.

Times are changing. Women are regaining their power. So men need some insight into what is our truth.  

Women are not for your enjoyment. They are not a performance piece for you to have an opinion on. We want to be able to live our lives as we choose without having people think they have the right to tell us their opinion (either positive or negative).

A woman’s life is her experience and expression. It belongs to her. She does not need your approval. She does not want your opinion. She does not need your comments.

No.

Any interaction where you are an unwilling participant is an insult to your soul.

If someone wants to tell you something you don’t want to hear you are not obligated to listen. This includes things like: gossip, a story about a terrible thing that happened, a personal attack, a rude joke. You are not obligated to listen. You can say no, or walk away.

If someone wants to show you something you find terrible you are not obligated to look. This includes things like a photo, a movie, or a TV show that goes against your values.

If someone wants to hug you, you are not obligated to hug them. This is true even if you have hugged them before or even if they are relative or friend.

Your time, your attention, your energy, your physical space are yours. You do not have to share them with anyone, for any reason, at any time. The moment you realize you feel uncomfortable you are allowed to leave the situation.

If you feel confident that you can explain to them how you feel and that they will respect your feelings and stop, you can. But otherwise you owe them no explanation.

This is especially true if you feel they will attempt to make the situation worse by continuing to treat you in a manner that you do not like.

This is especially relevant if you notice any sense of fear or social obligation. If you feel obliged to continue the interaction or relationship because of a sense that you must (to keep the peace, to be “a good girl”, to keep the other person happy) or a sense of fear (he will retaliate in some way, possibly violent) then this is not a healthy relationship. Leave. If someone cannot interact with you in a healthy manner, you are not obligated to continue the interaction. Boundaries are essential for your mental, emotional, and spiritual health.

If someone is saying that you deserve to be treated badly, leave.

Your time / energy / attention are yours. Every interaction must be mutually beneficial. If one person stays under duress (guilt is just as dangerous as being physically held) then it is not a healthy relationship. You owe it to your soul to leave.

What it means to be in a female body

TW, CW: verbal and sexual assault.

I am grateful for the #MeToo movement for letting me know that I am not alone, that my experiences as a female, in a female body, are normal.  Well – they aren’t normal.  They involve verbal and physical sexual assault and abuse.  Repeatedly.  But it lets me know that this is something that has happened and is happening to all women, and that the only thing that has allowed this to continue is secrecy. 

Men have assumed their behavior is normal.  Women have assumed men’s behavior is normal.  It isn’t normal. It isn’t healthy. It isn’t safe.

I am lucky that I have not been attacked.  I am lucky that I have not been forcibly raped. 

But I have been raped.

Rape is not always about force. It is any time there is sexual penetration without consent.  It can be with a boyfriend you have dated for many years.  It can be with a new guy, a potential boyfriend. It can be with a husband.  There doesn’t have to be force. It doesn’t have to be a stranger. It is any time you have sex when you don’t want to have sex. Period.

I will not go into much detail about the time a boyfriend raped me. It didn’t feel like rape at the time. It was the first time we’d had sex. I wasn’t ready. He thought I was. He didn’t ask. We’d fooled around before. But I wasn’t ready to make that next step.  Next thing I knew he’d put his penis inside me. So I didn’t get to decide.  It was happening. I didn’t want it, but it was too late.

It wasn’t like I was a virgin. But I’d not had sex with him before. We hadn’t talked about when we wanted to cross that line.

That is rape. Even though the sex wasn’t forced, it wasn’t welcome. He made me think that I’d asked for it, that I wanted it. But it wasn’t just him – it was years and years of other boyfriends teaching me (and other women) that my body was not my own. That I was a thing for them to use.

There are microaggresions – forceful words, ideas, thoughts – where guys program women into thinking they are things, they are objects of desire, they are objects – period.  We are repeatedly taught through words and actions and stories that we exist only to please men – that we do not have value on our own. This is a form of mind-rape, where we are taught to submit.

Even women’s fiction teaches women this, over and over, that their only purpose in life is to have a man – any man. That is her happy ending – to have a husband, a house, a family – and nothing else. This is programming.

So what does it mean to be in a female body?

It means that you have to think about what you wear when you go on a date. I learned early on that boys thought it was OK to start taking off my clothing without my permission. They would search for buttons and clasps while we were kissing. They didn’t ask.  I hadn’t said it was OK.  I hadn’t said that I wanted “to go past first base”. I started wearing difficult clothing to make them stop. Saying no wasn’t enough. I had a pair of pants that buttoned on the side, at the pockets.  This was unusual – and the guy was trying to undress me without my permission.  He stopped and asked how to undo my pants and I told him I had not said that was what I wanted.  He was frustrated and confused.  He had never thought to ask a woman what she wanted.  It was always about what he wanted.

On another date with a different guy I had on my favorite shirt. It was a beautiful green, long sleeves, really comfortable.  But it had snap buttons.  He started undressing me and I said no. He was confused. There was a lot of discussion, and I said I didn’t want to have sex. We’d just met – this was our first date. He said that I shouldn’t have worn a shirt with snap buttons then. That was a sign (to him) that I wanted to have sex.

They are not alone.  This is normal behavior of men towards women.  People in male bodies don’t experience this. They don’t go on dates and worry about if things will progress further than they want.  Most guys want things to progress to a “home run”. 

On the first date.

Without any talking about it.

Without any discussion at all.

I went out with a guy to a movie. When we got back to his dorm room, he wanted to have sex.  This was our first (and last) date.  He was surprised that I said no. His argument as to why we should have sex – he’d paid for the movie.  It was owed him, he thought.  As if I was a $10 whore.  As if I owed him sex. When I said no, he asked he could at least jerk off between my breasts. I said no.

Note that he was only interested in his sexual pleasure – not mine.  Note that only his needs were important.

Another guy, another first and last date, didn’t undress me but pulled out his penis and began jerking off while we were kissing. I said I was uncomfortable with him doing that and he put it back. We kissed a little more and he began jerking off again. I walked away, and he said that he’d finish up thinking about me.

This is disturbing behavior.  This isn’t OK.

I feel lucky that I have always been able to get away from these experiences without being raped. Some men don’t take no for an answer.  I know that women have been forced to have sex – under duress, under guilt, under wheedling and whining with the classic “blue balls” sob story. Guilt-trip sex is rape.

Women are taught over and over to please, to take care of others.

Women are taught that to be “good” we must put our needs and wishes second.

Men know this, and they use it against us.

Sometimes the problems aren’t so dramatic, but they still are scarring. They are still wrong. They are still abusive.

I’ve had a boss say “while you’re down there” – smirking and glancing at his crotch while I was getting something out of a cabinet.  He was standing up right next to me.  This was at a Record Bar in Eastgate Mall, in Chattanooga. The store was open to the public. He thought it was perfectly normal to ask me to give him a blow job. At work. We weren’t dating. He was married.

This was right before the term “sexual harassment” was normalized. Another employee turned him and the assistant manager (also male) in for sexual harassment against her. They were so confused about it. They didn’t think they had done anything wrong, ever.  The assistant manager even called me at home to ask me to call corporate to put in the good word for them – to say they weren’t guilty.

By the way – the assistant manager had asked me to be part of a threesome with him and his wife.

These two men thought this was all normal.

Sometimes sexual assault isn’t so obvious.  I had a male boss who thought it was OK to come up behind me while I was at my counter at JoAnn’s fabric store in Cool Springs and “goose” me.  I was in a tight space, with the counter in front of me, not room to move away. He would poke me on my sides to tickle me. I had not asked for this. I didn’t want this. I told him to stop. I understood in the back of my mind that this could mean I’d get low marks on my performance review.

That too is sexual harassment and assault.

Any unwanted physical contact isn’t OK.

So now guys are wondering what is OK. They say they are afraid of us now. They are afraid of lawsuits and criminal records. They are afraid of us damaging their reputations.

To this I say, good. We’ve been afraid of men for thousands of years. We’ve been threatened, coerced, and psychologically assaulted by men for too long. And what has continued this assault is secrecy. No longer.

Yes, not all men. Some men are good. But the chances of being harmed are high, and we’ve gotten scarred.  Being out in public is like playing a game of Russian roulette – where women are always the losers.

Then there are situations where it isn’t so obvious.

Men think it is normal to dump their emotional baggage on me while I’m at work, assuming that because I’m a woman I want to hear them complain about all the things going wrong in their lives. They don’t talk to other men like this.

I have worked behind a desk for most of my life – in retail and in other service industries. I’m not a counselor or a therapist but they treat me as if I am one.  This relationship is not two-way. They don’t want to hear about my life. This is not a friendship.  They want to use me as their emotional garbage dump, just because I am female. This is exhausting.  It is yet another way men condition women to be their servants, to be their objects.

Women are taught to beware of their surroundings at all times to protect against attack. Just walking across a mall parking lot can be as dangerous as walking in the wilderness. Being attacked by a bear and a man require the same precautions. I could go on and on about how our “normal” isn’t normal, and how men do not grasp how much some men (and sometimes they themselves) complicate the lives of women.  But I won’t right now.

I now live my life in my own power.

I now live my life in truth.

I now am a powerful, truthful, and whole woman.

So be it.

Little Ben

Little Ben shimmied into his man suit to go to the arena. He”d learned the hard way that he had to or people would step on him – sometimes literally. They just didn’t take him seriously most of the time.

Maybe it was his age. Maybe it was his joyful spirit. They just didn’t like being around someone who refused to get drawn into their glum gravity. His cheeriness in the face of their crankiness was disconcerting. It reminded them that they had a choice to be cranky, that it wasn’t automatic, or fate.

It was like sobriety – drunks don’t like to hang around those in recovery. It reminded them that there was a way out. They felt embarrassed, or shamed, by his presence. And while it would be easy to go along to get along, he chose not to. It had taken too much work to get where he was to fall back into bad habits again.