Sunday, September 17, 2017

Let's Get This Over With

I have never accidentally said the 'N' word.  Ever.  I have accidentally said pretty much every swear word you can think of, and a few inventive ones I think I may have come up with.  I've said the 'C' word to my infant son hundreds of times.  Like, ten times this week alone.  But I've never accidentally said the 'N' word because one doesn't accidentally in the heat of passion say a word they don't already say all the time, in the heat of passion or alone with their white friends, in private.
Because we all know that's what's going on here.

It's simple, to me.  Black people have generally agreed, and most other folks have agreed with them, that there is one word they have chosen to be off limits.  It brings up too much f the bloody, painful, cruel past and they would really like it if it would never again pass over white lips.  I, as a person generally dedicated to not being a dick to strangers, especially a whole population of them, am happy to comply.  Because it's not that big of a deal to me, but it is to them.

Imagine this; you have a neighbor who has had a really shitty year; his cat died, and his grandma died, and maybe he lost his job and his spouse left him.  Just really shitty stuff.  And you're talking to him, and he says, "You know what?  Every time you say the word 'foyer' it really upsets me; that was my cat's name, and I named my cat after my grandmother, and now they're both dead.  So it just sucks to hear the word 'foyer'.  Could you just not say it anymore?"
Wouldn't you say, "Yeah, dude, of course!  It's a pretty old word anyway, I usually say entry.  Consider it struck from my vocabulary!"
Because that's what a decent person does.

Now, trade the rough year of one neighbor for generations of oppression, brutality, literal slavery, torture, economic repression, and general discrimination for an entire group of humans.  A population of Americans.  And they're asking, in addition to, ya know, equal and fair treatment, us not using that one word.
What kind of ass hat says no?  Probably a person who thinks that their enjoyment or use of that one word is more important than the aforementioned generations of literal and figurative slavery, oppression, general mistreatment and abuse.  That kind of ass hat.

So just don't say it.  It's not that hard.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

My Best Friend's Wedding, and other generic titles

I have a friend.  He's a great person.  You know how there are people you meet and you think, oh, yeah, they are adequate.  Normal-sauce.  Really nice, or fun, but not in an exceptional way.
My friend Joey isn't like that.  He stands out.  And honestly, when I first met him I thought he was kinda childish, and dumb.  But then we actually talked.  So, you know, books and their covers, etc.

But seriously.  my friend Joey is one of those unique, wholly honest people.  He lives with this sort of overt vulnerability that can sometimes be mistaken for run-of-the-mill tactlessness, but in reality, it is a deep and very honest actual concern for everyone around him.  What the fuck does that even mean, right?

He's the kind of person who will ask you pretty much anything regardless of the circumstances, which we don't do in polite American society, because it makes folks uncomfortable.  But now ask yourself, when was the last time a person asked you a deep, semi-awkward question, but also actually cared about the response?  Now you see where I am going.  Joey is actually invested in the wellbeing of others, to the extent that he will ask the awkward questions in service of his effort to let people tell their truths, and actually be honest about what's going on in their lives.

Which, pretty much, is how we became friends on a research trip to South Dakota.  My divorce was finalizing, I was dating, and I was delving into a new research subject that I hoped would *be* my career, which was all I believed in now that love seemed to be bullshit.  The timing of the trip meant I was missing the funeral of my beloved grandmother, one of the many sacrifices made in service of 'the career I would have".  I'd also somehow positioned myself between the two principle researchers, as a sort of go-between/priest/hairdresser for both of them.  No one seemed to notice that I felt I was dying inside, while diving into other people's worlds to try to fix some damn thing while everything I knew seemed to be finishing crumbling.  Except, of course, Joey.  He asked rude and intrusive questions, which I answered.  We discussed music, and I told him what was actually going on in my life, because he seemed to actually care.  Because he did actually care.  So that's how we met.

We continued to work together, and he continued to pry into my personal life, which meant for once I had someone to talk things through with (besides my therapist.  Yay mental health care!!  It's why I'm still alive!).  And I got to know what was going on with him.  And in a short time he became a person I trusted deeply, whose opinion I valued deeply, someone I loved and was truly my friend.  Plus we managed to get a lot of work done, and kinda brought the best out of each other.  Joey talked me off many metaphorical ledges, and through so many life choices.  He's the first person I told when I found out I was pregnant.  He was my person.

So, him dating scared the shit out of me.  Because seriously, people are kinda crummy toward people they date these days.  There's the whole nonexclusive thing, and all the dating apps that present this idea that maybe the next person will be better, if you keep swiping, because there are infinite people...and are they really even people anymore?
But...I digress.  And this makes me sounds old.  And I kinda think Aziz Ansari already covered most of this.
The point is, I saw my friend Joey as a pretty special individual.  He goes out of his way to make strangers on the street happy.  He sees through people's weakly constructed facades, and actually cared what was beneath those facades.  He is a person of deep faith and love, but also a man of philosophy, prone to asking the tough questions.  So, his faith means something, but is open to being debated well.  Joey is dedicated to his passions, and is honest and aware of his own short comings.  What I'm trying to say is, he's not going to do the whole 'pretend to be super likable' song and dance that we all use to make ourselves likable on dating apps or social media.  And he would actually question a person's ideas and ideology, but with actual interest, and wanting to enter into a discussion.  Which is to say that I worried that dating apps would never help Joey find someone who would understand him, because who's that honest and complex right away??

But then he met Antoinette, and he was happy.  So I was happy!  And I was optimistic.  Until I finally met her, and started to really get to know her, and learn about her.  Then I was thrilled.

In Antoinette, Joey has truly met his match, in every way.  She is kind and loving, which of course I want for my dear friend.  She knows and understands the dark feelings and times that can plague people who think too much, or worry too much.  So many of us have these feelings of inadequacy, depression, anxiety, but most of us (me) don't like to talk openly about it.  Here was Antoinette, as honest as Joey was about struggling to be her best self.  Here is Antoinette, who is creative, passionate, and thoughtful about her faith.  Someone who can meet Joey, word for word and idea for idea, who doesn't shy away from taboos simply because they are, but questions and makes her own choices.  The more I get to know Antoinette, the more I am certain that Joey had found a true partner for life in her.  And I don't worry about my friend anymore.  Because he is going to marry and build a life with her, and I get to be here, on the sidelines, cheering them on.  We all do.  And for that, we are all blessed, because there is nothing greater in life than watching good people have good lives.

Friday, June 02, 2017

Reflections On My Time As An Incubator

When I told my coworkers I was pregnant, a charming Ukrainian colleague of mine approached me in the break room and asked, "Do you have this word in English, incubator?".  I laughed because, obviously, we do have this word, and because I knew exactly where she was going.  Being pregnant with a wholly wanted and loved fetus was at times a wholly dehumanizing process, and more often than not I felt like an incubator that existed only to sate the appetite of the unseen squid-parasite sucking all of my nutrients and energy from me.  And I had a pretty chill pregnancy.

Seriously.  I wanted to be pregnant, and I have wanted a baby all of my life.  Yes, I have always valued my independence and envisioned a life without children that would have been happy enough, but since I was a little girl, begging to babysit and care for children I have wanted to raise kids of my own, so getting pregnant was a joyfully, tear-eliciting event.  And I had an easy pregnancy; I suffered from no morning sickness, none of the hypertension or gestational diabetes that plague so many modern women.  I managed to sleep pretty well, had an incredibly patient and supportive partner, friend group, and family around me the whole time, and had access to regular prenatal care.  I didn't have to give up any life saving or life affirming medications, and aside from occasional pregnancy headaches and carpel tunnel, had no problems while pregnant.  I didn't even have a problem giving up my cherished all day caffeine consumption or nightly half-bottle of wine habit.

But it still sucked.  The whole time I was marveling at how my body was capable of this massive change, this insane undertaking of creating a human from to bags of cells, I was also watching the body I'd known for almost 35 years become unrecognizable.  I used to challenge people to try to name one part of my body that hadn't been affected by pregnancy.  Lose joints and tendons, displaced organs, bleeding gums, stronger hair and nails (that later fall out and become brittle, respectively, not matter how many post-natal vitamins I take...), swollen feet and sore hands.  Even my skin changed color and my sweat smelled different.  Nothing stayed the same, and five months later, my body still feels foreign.  My hips are still not fully secured, my breasts are still too big for tops without an 'X' in front of the L, and as I fight to regain lost muscle mass I watch my linea nigra slowly refuse to fade. 

Which is fine, because I wanted a baby, and my child is a nonstop tornado of magic and insanity that I cried for when I was afraid it wouldn't happen. 

But imagine if I didn't want a baby, or didn't want a baby yet.  Or didn't have support in place, or a partner with whom I shared mutual love and respect.  Imagine if I had to go through more than twelve months (most doctors concede that it takes between 6 and 18 months to recover from pregnancy and delivery) of physical changes that would make Jeff Goldbloom think The Fly was a boring ass documentary.  Who else would say that was an acceptable price to pay for sex and/or failed birth control.  The fact that no (biological) man ever has to worry about this reality, yet many speak openly, vocally, legislatively, about womens' responsibility, is horrifying to me. 

Let me put it more simply.  Imagine every time you had sex you had a one in ten chance of having to give up alcohol, caffeine, deli meats, and raw meat and fish, and gain 30 - 50 pounds for nine months.  And then lost the ability to poop or control your bladder for a few weeks, and then could go back to normal until the next time.  That would suck, right?  And that's just a fraction of the reality a woman without full fertility/birth control options faces.  These choices should be personal, private, and freely available to women capable of sex, pregnancy, or being assaulted.  No matter what.  Because the individual sovereignty of a woman should not be nullified by a cluster of cells, or a fetus, or even a baby. 

If a baby was dying, and only my liver would save it, would the law force me to donate a lobe of my liver?  I could be reasonably expected to survive the surgery, and could go on to recover and lead a normal life, but we would never compel people to give up their biological sovereignty in that way.  Even without a nine-month lead up to the surgery that required me to adopt a special diet, miss work for regular appointments, and intense physical trauma of surgery and recovery.  Until mandatory non-lethal donations are legislated, we can't talk about eliminated birth control or abortion without recognizing the inherent bias against people with vaginas and uteruses. 

Monday, April 24, 2017

On Pregnancy, From the Rearview Mirror

Just over a year ago, I managed to get a couple of eggs fertilized by my main squeeze, which means I am now mommy to a joyful little 15-week old boy.  It also means that I have spent the last 12 months being taken apart piece by piece and rebuilt into new iterations of myself that I did not entirely recognize.  Pregnant me was about four different people, and mom me is someone I have never met.  Physically and psychologically everything has changed.  Seriously, challenge me on that.  Try to name something (other than my name) that has not changed in the process of the last year.  I have it on good authority that my skin changed the way it smelled at least three times during pregnancy.

On thing that has changed in a delightfully unexpected way is my newfound confidence in my old feminist ideals.  I've finally experienced a few things I'd only even talked about before, and finally have some authority to discuss them.  So, in no particular order, here's some shit I learned or have become certain of in the last 12 months:

1. No one should ever have to be pregnant against their will.  Ever.  I had a relatively easy pregnancy, in that my symptoms were limited to swollen breasts, sore breasts, mood swings, exhaustion, anxiety, gas, constipation, drooling, heart burn, carpel tunnel syndrome, swollen feet, swollen ankles, fluid retention, sore joints, reduced vision, indigestion, insomnia, varicose veins, diarrhea, back pain, forgetfulness, and an insatiable hunger.  I also developed a sweet tooth, but I think that is because I had to give up alcohol, caffeine, raw food, partially cooked food, lunch meat, sushi, seafood in large or exotic quantities, and most OTC medications.  So cookies started to seem like my only option.  Other pregnant women experience nausea, vomiting, acne, high blood pressure, low blood pressure, stretch marks, changes in blood sugar, bloody gums, development of boils or allergies, and much much more. Basically try googling any symptom or condition with the word pregnancy, and you'll find the same response, "occurs in some number of pregnancies; could be normal or serious, check with your doctor.".  That in and of itself should tell you that a person shouldn't have to go through it if they don't want to.  But think about all the sacrifices a pregnant woman makes for her beloved child.  No imagine that the woman does not want to be pregnant; how might that affect her decision to have a cup of coffee (which affect neurological development) when she suddenly needs twice as much sleep to function at the same level in the first trimester.  Or her decision to forego anti-depressants, allergy medicine, or pain killers (all of which are tied to birth defects).
This is to say nothing of the loss of autonomy you feel as a tiny force inside of you steals your vitamins and nutrients (necessitating those expensive prenatal vitamins), demands your energy and alters everything in your body from your hair and skin to the location of your organs and arrangement of your joints.  To me, it is an argument first about autonomy, second about how and why we value children and life, and third an appeal to what our actual priorities are.

The first argument is difficult, because there's no great comparision to be made; pregnancy is not really like any other aspect of life.  The best I've heard so far is of a life-saving donation, like a kidney or liver transplant.  Do we obligate everyone who is a donor to donate their blood or a lobe of their liver?  Sure, there are risks, but a life can be saved, right?  In these cases, with two adults, the donor's autonomy wins out over the recipient's life.  Why is this not true in cases of small, non-viable fetuses?
The second argument and the third are intertwined; they have to do with how we treat  these babies before and after they are born, and how we indicate the value of babies through public policy.  If we value these lives before they are born, then why to we appear to cease caring as soon as the baby leaves it's mother?  Why do we have a failing foster care system, children aging out of mediocre and damaging state care without ever knowing the love of a family, and children languishing in care that fails to meet their basic needs, is abusive, or both.  If these lives are all truly special and valuable, then why aren't babies born to mothers not ready to raise them not treated as valued by our society?
Finally, in terms of our national priorities, we cannot rationally continue to claim that children are precious, that life is precious, if all of our policies are to the contrary.  If nascent life is precious, why isn't adult life also precious?  Why to we imprison adults with drug addiction, or leave people of all ages with mental health issues to their own devices?  Why do we kill other people, and accept that police killing innocent people is acceptable, if all life is truly precious? 
And why don't these precious lives then have access to health care and education?  If we want mothers and people to believe that every child is wanted, why do we not provide free or even subsidized maternal health care?  Why do we not provide excellent health services to those who conceive?  Why do we not make sure that every child, or even most children, have access to quality child care, quality education, quality health care and mental health services until adulthood?  If these children are wanted, why do we not support their parents when the wanted child comes, through paid family leave?  And why do we not provide people of childbearing age with quality sex education and pregnancy prevention, so that they can make the best possible choices for themselves?

I have never heard a satisfying answer to these questions.  Instead, the most recent health care bill proposed by the president and congress sought to make maternity care optional, allowing insurance agencies to choose whether or not to provide healthcare to pregnant women.  More than any law attempting to force women to carry unwanted pregnancies to term, the lack of healthcare options for pregnant women indicates what our true priorities are.  Pregnancy is physically and psychologically brutal, to say nothing of motherhood, parenthood, and the 18+ year commitment entailed therein.  If you want to spout nonsense about each life is precious, act like it is true for more than the first handful of months prior to birth.  And act like life is actually valuable and worthy of care.  And then we can have a serious debate about the autonomy of women with uteruses versus the autonomy of fetuses.  And then that debate will no longer be about, on some level, condemning women who get pregnant to live forever with the result of one instance of sexual intercourse. 

Monday, September 26, 2016

Chapter 34.5

In which our hero makes a potentially life-altering decision.

Is this what parenthood is?  Today is my first day in a job that is, as far as I can tell, a step down in every way except that it will provide the consistency my employment has lacked for the last five years.  I am starting as an assistant manager of some kind at a student apartment complex in Davis.  This is essentially the job I had 9 years ago that inspired me to go after my PhD in economics.  It was a smaller property, but I was the manager, so step up?  Step down?
It feels like a step down, like a sacrifice.  Like something I should be ashamed of.  Like moving back in time, like I am erasing the last nine years of my life....big years, by the way.

Years in which I fell in love, got married, got divorced, fell in love, got pregnant, realized my dream of becoming an Economics professor and loved every painful second of it, lost and regained my sanity, became a subject expert on Native American voting rights, experienced a pile of death and life and found strength in myself that I thought could only be reached through the worst conditions necessitating survival.  And thrived.  And now...

And now I am back.  In Davis, the town I went to high school in.  Doing the job I did when I was 25 years old.  Sort of.  It seems like the smart choice, though, because there is a baby coming, and babies need things like money and food and health insurance and consistency.  But I can't shake the feeling that I am letting go of a piece of myself, a piece of myself that makes me strong and proud.

And I don't even know if I'm supposed to be here today.  All I know is everyone around me is happy for me, congratulating me, and inside I am screaming, "NO!  This has to be some kind of mistake!  Can't you all see how wrong and backwards this is?!"  And no one can hear me.

Monday, July 18, 2016

99,999 miles

Credit to my wonderful Aunt Melanie for this idea, because I apparently *needed* a reason to write.

Today, on the way to work, my car hit the 99,999 mile mark.  This is not terribly remarkable, because I bought the dang thing with 89,000 miles on it, but it felt like an opportunity to mark time, to plant a flag and state proudly "this is where I am; that is where I was and that is where I am going."

I thought I would hit the marker on Saturday, when I drove into downtown LA for 10+ hours of extra work to try to make some extra cash because I am still, somehow, at the ripe age of 34, a broke-ass graduate student.  It didn't, likely in no small part due to the fact that I was so fried after a full day of troubleshooting minor technical glitches and listening with fake enthusiasm to an introductory seminar for MBA students that I drove straight home, untemped by even the slightest detour.  Yesterday me, who had tried to make dinner plans with friends in the city?  She was an insane masochist with no concept of the finite nature of energy.

And I didn't hit it on Sunday for similar reasons.  working all day Saturday had left me drained, so I vowed to stay in bed and relax while watching tv shows on Amazon Prime.  And fell back asleep.  And ate pasta in bed, and eventually decided that it was exactly what a pregnant lady would do after working 6 day straight.  take one damn day off and do nothing.  So I didn't leave my house all day Sunday.

In a sense, my Sunday is an apt metaphor for my general feelings of late; mobilized; stuck somewhere between self care and self pity, avoiding a potential stream of thoughts threatening to overwhelm my mind at any moment.  A lot of avoidance.  In part because I am scared.

And there's this thing i do when I'm scared where I let fear sort of wash over and color everything else in life.  I'm afraid of my dissertation, of completing my degree, so now I am also afraid of my baby's development, of what kind of relationship I am in, of what my choices have been and are going to be...general fear washes and paralyzes.
Fun times.

In my experience, the first and best step in mitigating all of this fear and avoidance is simply sitting quitetly, thinking, talking with trusted friends, and letting the thing most terrifying, my thoughts or my success, just happen.  It's never as bad as the anticipation of it is. 

Which, if I were to try to tie this all together and wrap it up, is the whole point.  Life, death, change, growth, age, development, shock, fear, and shit are all inevitable.  Life and things rarely go as planned.  But the clock keeps ticking, and we strive to make better choices int eh moment, because in actuality that is all we have; our choices in the moment.  So I have been slacking off?  So what.  That was yesterday.  Today is pregnant with potential, and filled with moments for me to make the most of.  Chock full of potential.  The clock hasn't ticked over yet, and I am still at 99,999 miles, 16 weeks, 8 years, and 34 years, depending on what we're counting.  Life is good.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Ch-Ch-Changes

There's this feeling that arises when one is on the brink of a major life shift; a feeling of urgency colored with anticipation.  Like I want everything to happen all at once, so that I can be in the middle of it already, but the magnitude of the change makes me hope I can delay any real change indefinitely.
In this case, this change can neither be rushed nor delayed; I have it on good authority that a health pregnancy takes about 40 weeks, and there's no way around that.

The challenge, then, becomes filling the time remaining with productive and precious experiences.  There are two ravenous horses pulling the cart that is my life; one clomps ahead, urging me to work, pack, write, read, prepare, prepare, prepare.  The other matches the first's pace, instead insisting I savor, that time is dwindling, that things will never be the same again.  Never again!   And they are both right, and they both send me straight to Netflix to engage in practiced avoidance while I re-watch episodes of Jessica Jones and 30 Rock over and over.

Realistically, none of this is really that new.  There are always events that seem larger than life, too big to focus on something as mundane as a literature review.  And so I keep scheduling time to sit in front of my trusty laptop, waiting for the motivation to come...inching closer to actually completing work.  Today, instead of Netflix, I started writing something!  That's better than nothing!

The other thing I keep thinking of is something I like to call event-hangover.  I get it all the time; birthdays, weddings, vacations, dinner parties.  Planning for a big thing, something you are excited about, can take up so much energy and lead to so much anticipation, it can be hard to stay afloat in the quick recession to normalcy that follows.  I am sure some of that will still pop up, but the reality of this life event is that now it is forever.  I am going to be a mom forever, Bruce is going to be a dad forever, to my baby, to our baby, we are going to be a family, bound to each other, in a new city, on a new joined adventure. 

So, there's that.