11 June 2016

I Said No

It was 30-odd years ago, and the phrase "date rape" hadn't hit my radar. I was completely sober and wide awake, but my "no" wasn't heard. My "no" wasn't loud enough, my sense of self-worth not strong enough, my body not powerful enough to give force to the word.

When rapes of college students make the news, I notice. I try to avoid reading the news articles, but end up consuming them. I have trouble sleeping, I cry a lot, I get outraged at statements that blame the survivors. And I wonder why after 30 years I can't move on and forget about it. 

The most recent case blew out my Facebook. The details were unavoidable. I raged about the rapist's refusal to take responsibility, the father's plea for leniency, the brief sentence handed down by the judge in violation of sentencing standards.

I read the survivor's statement, and I got choked up.

Eventually, I read the piece Joe Biden wrote, the open letter to the woman. I cried.

That night, as I tossed and turned and tried to sleep, I had an idea.

For the first time in three and a half decades, I thought: No.


It wasn't my fault.

It's not that "no" wasn't loud enough, or I wasn't strong enough.

He should not have done that.


That's rape culture. 

For 35 years, even though I knew that rape isn't the fault of survivors, even though I was outraged by the people who suggest it was, I believed in my own body that when I was assaulted, it was my fault. I believed in my own brain that I wasn't strong enough.

And then I cried some more, and for the first time, they were tears of healing.

28 May 2016

Capoeira and My New Shell

Freddy, a tortoise burned in a forest fire in Brazil, got a new shell by way of a 3D printer.
source: iflscience.com
I recently got a new name, "Tartaruga Marinha," "sea turtle," after two years of training at Capoeira Angola Quintal, and eight months after making a commitment to myself to take it seriously. Or as seriously as I could, given work and family obligations.

The story of Freddy and her new shell really resonates with me, because I feel as though Capoeira has given me, figuratively, a new carapace.

I came to Capoeira after a truck rear-ended my little car and left me with slipped disks in my neck and a shoulder that hurt all the time. My son had started training, and his teacher, Mestre Ombrinho, talked me into trying it, even though I doubted I could get very far.

My bad relationship with my own body reached much farther back than that car crash. As a little kid, I had exercise-induced asthma, but I didn't know that; all I knew was that when my sled reached the bottom of the snowy hill and I tried to run back up with the other kids, I'd be gasping and dragging, the last one up the hill every time. My only way to understand it was that I must be lazy or fat. Probably both.

I grew up and got medicated. For 29 years, I've taken twice-daily medication to keep my lungs clear, and a simple cold can send me into a spiral of breathing difficulties. I've had numerous asthma attacks severe enough to send me to the emergency room. I went backpacking and ran half marathons and a marathon and biked thousands of miles, between touring and commuting, and did a few triathlons, but still I considered my own body broken, traitorous, defeated. And then there were ten years of infertility, a whole other story but another experience that left me feeling alienated from and angry with my body.

When I started training, I'd watch the more experienced Capoeiristas and I'd constantly think, "I'll never be able to do that." I'd finish a class, and the next day my shoulder would hurt more, but then the day after that it would hurt less, and feel stronger and more flexible. So I kept going back.

As a child, I could do a cartwheel, but when I started doing Capoeira, I couldn't because of the weakness in my shoulder. But the instructors showed exercises that would build to an "Au," the Capoeira version of a cartwheel, and one day I found myself with my legs flying through the air.

Queda de rins is another signature Capoeira move that looks something like this:
source: Women in Capoeira
The goal is to balance on the arms, with both head and legs in the air. The first few hundred times I tried this, the pain and inflexibility and weakness in my shoulder left me nauseous with the effort. But recently, I managed to balance -- just briefly, but I managed it.

A few weeks ago, something strange shifted in my head. I watched one of the instructors demonstrate a move, and instead of rolling my eyes in frustration, I thought: "some day I'll be able to do that."

Recently, the instructor for the class I was in asked the students to try one-handed cartwheels. A couple of months ago, I'd have rolled my eyes and said, "No way." The other day, I tried it, managed a hop in the right direction, and laughed. Some day.

27 May 2016

How Not to Turn On the Air Conditioner

In the past ten days in my neighborhood, we've gone from a night-time low of 44 degrees, when I got my winter coat back out to walk the dog for the last time at night, to yesterdays high of 89. I work at home in the summers, and I'm sitting very comfortably at my desk with no air conditioning.

Comfortably, I said. How is this possible?

It takes a little bit more time and organization than flipping a switch so a beast in the wall can roar into operation. But not much. And it's a lot quieter.

It's also only feasible as long as nights remain cool: it's been going down into the 60's every night, and will continue to do so for most of the summer. There's always that one week in August when it doesn't go below 80 at night, and that's a different story. But for now...

Keeping my apartment comfortable during the day starts with making sure to let it cool down at night.  As soon as temperatures drop in the evening, I open all the windows to let the cool air in. The next step is to keep the place as cool as possible during the day, I cover windows when the sun is shining directly on them to keep the sun from warming the air inside. The light-blocking shade in the bedroom is most effective, but even the sheer curtain in the kitchen makes a difference.

As soon as temperatures warm up, I switch to iced coffee. I also drink cool water throughout the day to make sure I stay hydrated. Running a fan on a low setting to keep the air moving also helps. I also dress for the weather. In the winter, I keep warm with wool socks, long underwear, turtlenecks and sweaters. In the summer, those give way to tank tops and sandals.

I limit cooking during the day. I made coffee this morning, but sometimes I'll do that that the night before and then refrigerate it to drink iced. For lunch, I had a sandwich and a salad. Bonus: eating cold food cools my body. I save the bigger cooking for the evening when the air is already starting to cool again.

And last but not least, when I go outdoors, I walk on the shady side of the street when possible.

22 January 2016

Outdoor Workers

So, I'm back to biking to work in the winter. My students think I'm nuts. Lest anyone think I'm heroic for braving the cold, I want to offer a short list of people who work outdoors, year round, no matter the weather:

Mail carriers.

Delivery people. Some of them, like the UPS and Fed Ex carriers, get to sit in a truck in between having to go out in the cold and hump boxes around. Others get around on foot or by bike. Next time Seamless shows up at your door with lunch, consider an extra big tip.

Garbage collectors. I have to wonder if the heat of summer is worse than the cold, given the stench August produces.

Farmers. Animals and fields need to be tended, year-round, or you and I don't eat.

Traffic and parking enforcement officers and school crossing guards. Standing in one place, like the crossing guards mostly do, is the coldest winter job I can imagine. At least a lot of the other outdoor jobs involve moving around, therefore generating body heat.

Maintenance workers. You know, the ones who make the flowers look pretty in the summer, and shovel snow and spread salt in the winter. The ones who show up for work three hours before you do, to make sure the walkways around your office are clear and safe.

12 January 2016

Trump's Words Matter

I was minding my own business on the M14A bus yesterday afternoon when a man using a motorized wheelchair boarded. The bus driver asked the people in the disabled seats to get up so the new rider could turn his chair around. Except that's not what the driver said. What he actually said was, "You have to get up. He's going to keep us waiting for half an hour."

The driver didn't raise the seats for the rider, as drivers usually do; instead, he retreated into his seat area, and then followed the man toward the seating area, flicking his chin several times behind the man's back, in a clear gesture of contempt, if not profanity.  The rider raised the seats himself, reaching from his chair while bracing himself with one foot on the floor.

Several of the other riders started muttering. "Look, he can walk." "This is ridiculous." And so on. Finally I said, "You don't know how much pain it causes him, or how much exhaustion, to put weight on his feet." They shut up, thankfully. The man slumped over the handlebars of his chair: physical fatigue? emotional exhaustion? Who knows?

Back in November, Donald Trump mocked a New York Times reporter with a physical disability. "You ought to see the guy," he said, gyrating his arms in an apparent imitation of the reporter's stance. He said he was just gesturing, a claim few believed. And in defending himself, he dug a deeper hole, claiming political correctness is the problem: "a lot of us don't have time to be politically correct."

Trump has brought political discourse to new lows in his contempt for Mexicans, immigrants, Syrians, refugees, disabled people, Muslims, and women. Did this thing happen on the bus because of what Trump said? I don't know, but he's certainly cleared space for such disrespect to flourish.


Update: When I wrote this post, I also reported the incident to the MTA. Today (Jan. 13), I received an email message from the MTA saying they're going to identify the employee and follow up with his supervisor.

03 December 2015

We Need Gun Laws. Now.

More than 355 "mass" shootings already this year. Two, just yesterday. As of today, 12,223 people have died this year from gun violence and 24,722 people have been injured. Millions of friends and family members are affected.

But the NRA has convinced millions of Americans that any amount of regulation attached to gun ownership equals "taking away our guns." They give millions of dollars to people running for government at all levels to push the ridiculous claim that any amount of regulation is too much.

Hey, you know, we manage to regulate cars and alcohol and cigarettes and Sudafed without stopping people from acquiring and using any of them.

Hunters know that there are a bunch of rules about what you can shoot and when you can shoot it. In New Hampshire, deer season this year runs from October 31 through December 6, with different time frames depending on what kind of gun you're using. In Maine, you can't hunt on Sundays. You have to have a hunting license, and there are rules about how many deer you can bring home per year. No one is taking away anyone's right to shoot at animals with a gun, but the rules help protect the safety of hunters and other people using the forests, and they keep the deer population stable.

But it seems to be open season on human beings in the USA today.

I bought a car recently. I needed the Vehicle Identification Number of the car to get my insurance, so I couldn't get that organized in advance, and my insurance company closed before the car dealership, and without proof of insurance -- current insurance on the current vehicle, not last year's policy -- I couldn't drive the car off the lot.

Some states regulate guns. California, where one of yesterday's shootings took place. New York State. But violent people can buy guns with no background check, no waiting period, no regulations at all at gun shows in Georgia. From manufacturers like Glock and Men with orders of protection against them from ex-wives or girlfriends. People with a history of violence, people with criminal records. People with drug and alcohol problems that make them more likely to act and react violently.

If you own a car, you have to pay for insurance on it in case you get in an accident. If you drink and drive, you can lose your license. If you kill someone while driving, you might go to prison. No one is screaming that the government wants to take away our cars.

How we've reached this point when it comes to guns, I don't understand. Why the NRA wants you to think that any amount of gun regulation is unacceptable, I don't understand.

But it's beyond time for change. We need to show up at the polls and vote out the politicans in the NRA's pockets. We need national legislation that eliminates unregulated gun shows and closes the other loopholes to unregulated gun ownership.

We need national laws requiring regularly renewed licenses and insurance policies for all gun owners as well as rigorous background checks and waiting periods for new buyers.

We need them now.

24 November 2015

I Am Afraid of Donald Trump

In 1930, a lot of people thought an Austrian guy named Adolf was a buffoon who couldn't possibly take power and do any damage. His mannerisms were comical and his murderous fantasies would never go anywhere.

In the 1970s a lot of people thought an actor named Ronald who'd been in a movie with a monkey was a joke as a presidential candidate.

Ronald was elected and began a series of actions that turned American politics hard to the right. For one thing, his deregulation of broadcast media enabled Fox "News" to air misleading reports and outright lies under the tagline, "fair and balanced reporting." In that phrase, only the word "and" is accurate.

Fox and their yellow-journalist ilk are serving the same purpose that newspapers of that name served in the US in the 1920s, when people were comparing Jews to rats and Jim Crow laws were in full effect.

And in 2015, a lot of people think Donald Trump is a buffoon who can't be elected, but he's at the top of a pile of buffoonish candidates for the Republican presidential nominee.

And his rhetoric sounds like it's coming straight out of Nazi Germany.

His followers beat up a man at one of his campaign events who yelled, "Black Lives Matter." That sounds like Brownshirts.

He's been telling people he wants Muslims to wear identity badges. That sounds like Hitler.

He's been telling people Mexicans want to come to the US and take "our women."

He told Carly Fiorina to "quit interrupting" during the most recent Republican candidates' debate. Hitler's plan for women? Kinder, Kuche, Kirche: Children, Kitchen, Church.

If Trump is elected, he wants an America with only white men in power. He wants a society ruled by fear and suspicion. Stasi, anyone?

And he has a lot of supporters.

So did Hitler. A lot of people who said, after the Holocaust, "But we didn't know." "But we were told they were criminals." A lot of ordinary Germans who acquiesced in Hitler's program to round up Jews and gays, communists and Romani, the disabled and the chronically ill.

Meanwhile, here in the US, we rounded up Japanese people. People who had immigrated decades earlier, even their children, on the suspicion that they might be enemy spies.

It took a while for the Germans to figure out what to teach their children. When my mother started school in the 1940s, history ended before the Holocaust. But they've figured it out. Germany is taking 800,000 Syrian refugees. It's not going to be easy, and some people are complaining, but by and large the people are reaching out and welcoming them.

Maybe it has to do with the fact that Germany lived through a horrible war in their own country. Being bombed, having family members disappear, losing basic infrastructures, the stuff the Syrians are living through today, is part of living memory in Germany.

The US proposes to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees. A tiny quantity. Even if they all came to New York City they would be a tiny fraction of the population, not enough to fill even a square mile.

But Trump is stoking people's fears. Despite an incredibly rigorous process of review, taking up to two years, for every refugee, Trump is insisting that President Obama wants to let terrorists into the country.

Trump has a platform, and he has a lot of willing ears. And I don't have any idea how to persuade his followers that he is a dangerous demagogue being deeply irresponsible with his divisive rhetoric.

He is also peddling lies. He is telling his followers that Obama proposes to resettle 250,000 Syrians, a figure apparently invented out of whole cloth. He claims that 97 percent of African-Americans who die of gun violence in the US are killed by other African-Americans, a claim invented by neo-Nazis whose symbol closely resembles the swastika.

I don't know where to begin in terms of asking people not to believe his fear-mongering mistruths. If you believe Trump, and you don't fact-check his outrageous claims, why would you believe me?

I am not afraid of Syrians. I am afraid of Donald Trump.