"Sometimes the only power you have is to tell your story." -Evelyn Wilde

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Worst of the Worst

My worst day on the job could have been when I told my boss to go fuck himself and got escorted out of the building as a result. Or the day a pupil caught me kissing my boyfriend in the supply closet at the school where I worked. Those were days of scandal, caused entirely by my own impertinence.

No, the worst, most awful, regretful day was in my first year as a Special Education Teacher.

I had no proper training as an Elementary School Educator, but I did have a Bachelors degree and was willing to learn on the job so the District gave me one.

That job involved over 40 children a day, aged seven to twelve. A veritable sample menu of Special Needs-- from wheelchair bound to ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) to  BAK (Bad Ass Kid). The job mostly consisted of acronyms but I really wanted to teach those kids. I saw their potential and would cry at my desk in frustration because I couldn't reach all of them (*I was single, I had torn my ACL and was still living with my parents--the stress induced, cortisol driven, carb binges were all I had as comfort).

Needless to say, none of that was an excuse for what I said that day.


I was being mentored by my Principal and Assistant Principal  in a meeting with them both. They realized that I had been placed in a difficult position and wanted to offer me support and direction. I became overwhelmed, felt criticized and incompetent,  and I protested loudly " Look, I just don't know what I'm doing wrong. It's not like any of them are retarded!"

The word just hung around us for a few seconds until one of them moved the conversation on, mercifully.

A few weeks later at the School Fair the Assistant Principal and I ran into each other by the ring toss. She was with her daughter- a twelve year old girl with Down Syndrome. I don't know if she registered the shame on my face but with grace and compassion she smiled and introduced me.

I'm sure if you have had any day to day job for long enough you have had one, too. I bet Hillary Clinton has one. I bet it's "Benghazi!!" --as we have come to call whatever that day in Libya actually might have involved (like facts, different perspectives, other people's poor decisions) but for our purposes here we'll put it all on Hillary, just like Republicans.

So I bet that day is one she regrets;  ruminates over at night when she can't sleep. The one you so wish you could get a do over for. Shit went wrong that day, no doubt. It was an awful day. Maybe her worst.


After I had my terrible day I went on to become a better teacher. I became Special Needs Program Coordinator and got a Masters Degree in Counselor Education. Sure, I've had ridiculously terrible days since; I've been fired, I've been angry and resentful, I've said things or sent emails that I regret, but nothing comes close to my most awful day.

The point is it didn't define me. It didn't inform the rest of my career. I was wrong and yet, because of it, I now choose my words with more sensitivity to others because I learned from my mistake.

I'm aware that my experience does not compare to the loss of life and destruction that was incurred that day in Benghazi. However, many of those who despise Secretary Clinton also favor Jesus as a personal hero. So I wonder-- when does she deserve forgiveness?

Listen, I'm an asshole, too, but none of us should be defined by our worst day if we actually learned from the failure. Even Politicians can try to become better people, right?

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Hannah, Carrie, or Rachel?

Close your eyes for a moment and go back in time. Go back to a time when the NBA champions were the Chicago Bulls. When "Supermodels" were a thing. Rosanne was our favorite TV show. The Bodyguard and Aladdin were movies we paid cash money to see in a theatre. The Real World premiered on MTV and Amy Fisher shot that poor woman in the face.

1992 was the year Bill Clinton ran for President and I graduated High School.


I tell incredulous teenagers now about not having an iPhone or Snapchat and they just stare at me, blinking slowly. I can remember card catalogs at libraries, mimeographed homework, using pay phones when you were ready to get picked up at the mall. I actually do remember playing all day with my friends outside and riding my bike a few miles to school, sans protective head gear. I'm not exaggerating any of that.

Yet here I am at 41 years old: texting at stoplights, on-line shopping, oversharing on Facebook, and listening to library books that I download from an app.

My graduating class should be studied in a lab for our adaptability and endurance.

But my generation seems to be undefined. Broadly, we are part of Generation X. Specifically, those of us born in 1972-1976 went to high school together and that is still how I identify people around my age: Would you have been a Senior when I was in 9th grade? Or were you in 9th grade when I was Senior? Ether way we wouldn't have had much in common back then and probably don't now.
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Friends premiered in 1994. They were all definitely in college when I was in High School but remain relatable archetypes of twentysomething transitions even today.

Sex and the City ran from 1998--2004. I was 24--30 in that time period. Those women were at least ten years older than me. They would have had their first jobs out of college when I was just starting High School. Although I didn't exactly relate to their thirtysomething lifestyles I watched the show like a manual for how to be a woman.

I had neither the bank account, shoes, nor dating pool that they inhabited but it was the first time I had seen sex and relationships spoken about in an honest way and I tried my best to emulate them.

Girls premiered in 2012 when I was 37. Another brilliant show depicting young women in their twenties, living in the same area of Brooklyn I once did, making the same tragic choices I had. Yet, I was well past that by 37.

Married, in a transitioning career, and contemplating motherhood. Much more in-line with Carrie or Charlotte, than Hannah or Marnie, but really just sort of somewhere in between them. A generation unrepresented by HBO. In the 7 years between those two shows I felt more connected to a flawed man from the 1960's, a Chemistry Teacher turned Drug Lord, and black youth from Baltimore.
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I've only got a handful of friends from high school left.  We all live in different cities so our relationships exist for the most part on Facebook. Our 20th High School Reunion (four years ago) was just skipped over, no one bothered to hold one or I didn't get the Evite.

The High School President of our class was probably too busy producing multiple Broadway Plays and gifted children to arrange it. I think the Vice President of our year is now the Artistic Director at Alvin Ailey, or works for AT&T. I can't verify either, but we went to the High School of the Arts so many of us have "made it" and many of us have made something else entirely of our adulthood.

Either way, we're all apparently too busy to meet up in a hotel ballroom.

The Class of 1992 is 40-42 years old now. We're at that apex, where wine and people reach the crest of our lived experiences. We are "middle aged" by standard definition. We owe it to ourselves and all the seventies neglect, eighties excess and nineties plaid that we lived through to be heard from.

If the child prodigy who used to accompany me on Memory is only now getting his second Tony Award, I think a relevant TV show is still within reach.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Pussy Riot

 
Megyn Kelly is a smart, insightful and politically savvy woman who works for Fox News.

Megyn makes Donald Trump nervous. She's admirable until she avoids any suggestion that she might be a Feminist. Her responses babble on about how she doesn't like to marginalize or define herself in a way that feels "alienating."

Bitch, please!!

As Caitlin Moran wrote in her book How to be a Woman- it's quite simple really:

1.  Do you have vagina?
Yes?

2. Do you care what happens to it?
Yes?

Congratulations! You're a Feminist.

Men can also be Feminists, and they should be, ideologically, but if you are a (sic) woman who has fought to be in a position of power, like Ms. Kelly, it is beyond dismissive to just tell young girls to "Work twice as hard, to be twice as good. So good-- they can't ignore you."

Because, somehow, they still do.

If you're white, pretty, thin and blonde-- well, that certainly improves your chances of getting noticed, but what if you're not quite as privileged-- a brunette, black, fat, or old woman? Or, just sort of adequately good-- a high average chick?

Which brings me to Hillary Clinton, who I believe is by far the most qualified candidate for the next President of the United States. Yet, some women won't get behind her because she seems "unlikeable" "untrustworthy" and other Right Wing adjectives they've been throwing at that loud, opinionated, woman for most of her adult, political life.

I'm talking to you, ladies of voting age, and the girls who soon will be. Ignoring, dismissing, and minimizing the power of Feminism is not an option.

Ironically, the point of Feminism is that you get to choose. You can be whatever you want to be: a soccer player, homemaker, Instagram Celebrity, or President. You can even become a man. You can vote, for whomever you choose (remember when that wasn't an option for us?)

Your body and the children you do (or don't) want to carry into the world, your sexuality, pleasure and path-- no one should limit your choice based on the possession of a vagina but, to be clear, that choice only exists thanks to Feminism.

Define yourself in as many words, characters or emoji as you choose but make Feminist one of them.

Beyoncé would approve.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Post Traumatic Politics

A Mentor whom I respect immensely reminds me often that (when working with patients) "It's always about Trauma." On some level, large or small, we all experience trauma and I believe that to be one of the greatest recent insights of the Mental Health Community.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD, was originally attributed to Soldiers returning from war, but has become more accepted as a diagnosis for civilians who experience abuse, violence, and other severe issues outside of their normal experience of the world.

The criteria for PTSD include:
Intrusive memories
  • Recurrent, unwanted distressing memories of the traumatic event
  • Reliving the traumatic event as if it were happening again (flashbacks)
  • Upsetting dreams about the traumatic event
  • Severe emotional distress or physical reactions to something that reminds you of the event
  • Avoidance
  • Trying to avoid thinking or talking about the traumatic event
  • Avoiding places, activities or people that remind you of the traumatic event
  • Negative changes in thinking and mood
  • Negative feelings about yourself or other people
  • Inability to experience positive emotions
  • Feeling emotionally numb
  • Lack of interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Hopelessness about the future
  • Memory problems, including not remembering important aspects of the traumatic event
  • Difficulty maintaining close relationships
  • Changes in emotional reactions
  • Irritability, angry outbursts or aggressive behavior
  • Always being on guard for danger
  • Overwhelming guilt or shame
  • Self-destructive behavior
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Being easily startled or frightened

  • As I currently live in the United States of America-- in an election cycle-- I've also been thinking about another psychological term, a much older and fundamental one: The Collective Unconscious.

    Established by one of the first leaders in the field, Dr. Carl Jung, who defined the collective unconscious as the part of the unconscious mind that is derived from ancestral memory and experience, common to all humankind, as distinct from the individuals unconscious.

    A shared psychology, so to speak, shaped by common experience.

    As I reflected recently on returning to America in 2001, very soon after the Terrorist attacks of 9/11, I wondered if Americans have actually been suffering from a collective diagnosis of PTSD.

    Would that not account for the politics we are now witnessing? Could our shared traumatic experience of that awful day produce the isolationism, defensiveness and hopeless rhetoric some so vehemently believe?
    ----

    Therapy focused on individual trauma includes several modalities for re-experiencing and accepting the traumatic event itself. What more, an area of research in Positive Psychology is exploring the idea of Post Traumatic Growth: a construct of positive psychological change that occurs as the result of one’s struggle with a highly challenging, stressful, and traumatic event. To read more click here.

    The basic idea, on a personal or collective level, is that out of awful experiences wisdom and growth can often occur. It does not mean that the event is erased from our memory but, if we allow it to, the experience can inform us in a way that helps us to be better, not worse.

    My personal politics aside, all of us have to allow for change to occur in our lives or we risk stagnation. The act of voting is one way of moving towards hope and away from fear. Every election provides us with an opportunity to go forward or backward; to progress or regress.

    In 2016 which will we choose?

    Tuesday, December 29, 2015

    Where I Was At

    As we get older our priorities and challenges change as much as our hairstyles, but how much do we really shed? Is the 10-year-old Wham! fan, 19-year-old hippie, or 26-year-old black-out drunk still alive and kicking somewhere in my psyche?

    Are we like Russian Babushka dolls; containing within us every incarnation of our former selves layered over new skin?


    Upon returning to the United States, after teaching English in Spain for several years, I was acutely aware of how people "seen" movies and "done good." Even the newly "elected" George W. Bush was comfortable referring to Al Queda members as ‘folks' and wondering "Where they're at?"

    Now that I was back did I need to retire the English teacher me? I still took an interest in bongs and George Michael's career, when they existed, but my former selves didn't seem to fit anymore, much like my prom dress.

    It was as if I had been a missionary, preaching the name of the Lord abroad, only to return to find my Parish had gone Pagan. After working diligently correcting these basic errors, it felt like a betrayal when I realized that Americans didn't really care about double negatives and prepositions--we had real problems now.

    I had returned to America in October of 2001. Only a month after the attacks of September 11th. My decision to leave Spain was made before that terrible day but certainly became resolved after it. I wanted to come home, metaphorically and literally.


     

    I remember wandering aimlessly around the unavoidable box superstores which had infiltrated every department with American flag patterned blankets, fishing poles and flip-flops. Encouraged by our leaders to “shop more!” There was no shame to the extent people would brandish the flag, or some variation of ‘Kill Osama,' on whatever space was available.

    I started to save for a return trip to Europe.  It was only a matter of time before I got scorned for smoking in public-- with or without a God Bless America lighter.

    Tuesday, December 22, 2015

    Drown the Rich

    "I must clean our patio doors three times a week" I complain. My sister rolls her eyes and mutters "Middle-Class problems, indeed."  

    Rusted furniture and murky glass are not actual problems, but they do blur the dream of ocean front living.

    Although we live in a small apartment, just down the street is the most expensive property in the Unites States. We share the same view. I realize that if you have the money to buy your own private Caesar's Palace you can certainly afford to maintain it, but I do caution people who share with me their dream of living by the water: "Don't underestimate the upkeep" I say. "It will cost you thousands in repairs and replacements every year. Salt water is a bitch."


    Living by or near the water is why so many people move here, but in South Florida even the beach, the natural occurring convergence of land and water, is mostly private property; ostensibly available for everyone to enjoy but only past an invisible demarcation line in the sand.

    A drive along the ocean road from Miami to Palm Beach will allow very few unobstructed views of the actual water. The drive is mostly a tour of private homes, tower blocks and landscaped gates, all lined up next to each other like birds on a wire; acquiring every possible inch of space to ensure that they block out your view for theirs.

    There are public beaches along the way. A mile or so of space that each city owns, where you will probably pay to park and then get to spend a lovely day, inches away from strangers in their waterproof underwear.

     
    Some people don't even flinch at that idea. I see them with their umbrellas and coolers, staking out a spot, uninhibited and impervious to others. Me, not in a million years. Ideally, I want just enough space between myself and everyone else so they know if I'm drowning but not enough to know my gender.

    I actually see the beach I live by as a metaphor for why the 2016 election matters. It is a physical example of the American Dream we all get sold: claiming your own piece of sand, even if it is inches away from someone else's.

    The irony is, that rust and muck I scrape off every week is nothing compared to the threat of sea level rise. A climate report found that "2.4 million Floridians are at risk of flooding from even a moderate hurricane-driven storm surge. The odds of a catastrophic 100-year flood by 2030 are now 2.6 times higher than they would have been without global warming."

    In America, money can buy you palaces, privacy, and power, but it is sobering for us to remember that the ocean we all stare at, whether from a towel, terrace, or turret, couldn't care less about property values, and neither should our Politicians.

    Sunday, December 13, 2015

    Extreme Purging

    What if, a la The Leftovers, we all woke up tomorrow and Extremists of every faith, fad diet, and political persuasion had just vanished?

    Poof. No mas.

    Trump, ISIS, Vegans, Kim Davis, the NRA, Marine Le Pen. Gone. What would it be like to live in a world where no one watched Fox News, or preached hate, or had 19 children, demanded Gluten be eradicated from the menu, or gunned down Abortion Clinics (schools, malls, concerts, churches, cafes, holiday parties, etc.)?

    Would it be better, safer, kinder? Or would we still sabotage ourselves and continue to rank and file? "I'm a Socialist Liberal with a uterus and you're a Democratic Socialist with man boobs. See? So different, so, not cool."

    The fact is we all share more than we parse. Men and Women, Muslim and Jew, Carnivore and Herbivore. Yet we hone in on the differences, fixate on them; pathologize and study them in a lab. Except here we all are: walking around on the same planet, just breathing and fucking and texting, from Alaska to Zambia.

    I see hope in the Transgender community, calling for a neutral pronoun. And the new government of Canada, equalizing the genders in their Cabinet positions. Even Silicon Valley, admitting that they need to focus on diversity and altruism more than hover boards. Even Florida!! The mayor of St. Petersburg just banned Donald Trump from visiting, thanks to his latest call for a ban on all Muslim immigration. Meanwhile, many Muslims are standing up for peace and progress within their militant communities.

    An end of times purge would be effective but that's the easy way, it wouldn't last. We'd find something to bitch about. No, the path of progress must start within ourselves. Only then could it affect our politics.

    So, continue to exclaim your outrage on-line, by all means, but let's also respond to ISIS and Trump, (et al.), by welcoming family and friends into our hearts and homes this holiday season, despite our differences. Let us attempt to release the judgment; accept that everyone we know is struggling and trying to do their best.

    Workshop that with your in laws and see how it goes. Then and only then can we expect it from the "others."