(Positively) On This Heat

You can’t believe anything I say right now; the wires in my brain have fried, due to the extreme temperatures I am exposed to on a daily basis, and my ability to distinguish reality from the bleary haze of my heat-induced hallucinations is severely reduced.

Everything I am about to tell you is 100% true.

Two weeks ago I bought snazzy new seat covers for my Subaru. I need them because my car seats are already thrashed even though I’ve only had my car a few months. I swear I see new spots and stains on them every day. I can’t wait to put them on.

“If you can’t wait why haven’t you done it yet?” you’re probably asking. “Didn’t you say you got them two weeks ago?”

Why yes, I did. Thank you for asking.

My excellent new seat covers are sitting on a chair in my dining room, spilling out of the box they arrived in. A few feet away are the French doors; through those doors and down a few steps my Subaru sits. Seatcoverless.

You want to know why? I’ll tell you why. BECAUSE IT’S TOO FUCKING HOT TO DO ANYTHING OUTSIDE UNLESS YOU HAVE A DEATH WISH. OR A REFRIGERATED ASBESTOS SUIT.

By the way, it’s also too hot in my house to do anything. Did I mention we don’t have air-conditioning? Yesterday’s high was 107, but I think the second story of our crumbling, old (coincidentally) 107 year old house actually reaches about seven gazillion degrees in the afternoons, give a take a degree or two.

The lack of air-conditioning (commonly referred to con afecto as AC)  has been a long-standing issue¹ in our home. To air-condition the beast we inhabit is ridiculously expensive. When we first moved in, during the summer of 2001, we foolishly ran the AC with abandon, as if we had Freon growing on trees and money coming out our asses. We don’t, by the way.² Our PG&E bill was in the thousands. As in dollars.

We now have what is commonly referred to as a swamp cooler, or an evaporative cooler. I prefer “swamp” to “evaporative” for obvious reasons. I love our cooler, and actually prefer it to an AC, because it brings moisture into the air. The air is incredibly dry where I live. You can soak yourself with water in the backyard, getting yourself and your cotton t-shirt and panties sopping wet, and by the time you reach your back door, they’re barely even damp anymore. A swamp cooler brings welcome relief to this desert we live in..

The thing is, the swamp cooler works great until the temperature reaches 100 degrees. I’m not exactly sure what happens scientifically, but our swamp cooler gives up and says “Fuck y’all I’m not even trying anymore” as soon as the thermometer crosses into the triple digits. It blows out warm, tacky air that may or may not smell slightly fishy, depending on I don’t know what.

In recent days I have tried to be less, well, bitchy about the heat. Thought it makes me feel fractionally better to complain about how hot it is, I am fully aware that those around me are not amazed by my sizzling monologues. I have decided, instead, to look at all the good things there are about living in a place that’s unbearably hot from May to September, and inhumanely hot in July and August.³

For one thing, I don’t clean my house anymore. I’m serious. It’s too hot. The pair of sandals I took off because they were making my feet hot are still sitting in a chair in the hallway, on top of a stack that includes the last book I taught; some sprigs of lavender I picked before our lavender bush gave up the ghost last summer; a dish towel, and a Buzz Lightyear action figure. The energy it would take to return all these items to their rightful places is too much in this heat, so I just leave them there, along with the dust on my surfaces, the spots on my floor, and chewed up bits of debris that are left on the floor when my puppy Ophelia is done chewing whatever it is she got hold of. It’s a great freedom, not cleaning your house. Imagine my glee, after tidying up after four kids and their friends and my husband and myself for all these decades! I no longer have the ball and chain of a clean house dragging behind me.

Also, exercise is out of the question when it’s this hot, so I’ve said goodbye to it, too. My body, once (not that long ago) strong and firm from riding my bike to work in the bay area, is now soft. Squishy. Like a steamed dumpling. Or a fat puppy. And I mean, come on, who doesn’t like puppies and dumplings?

Another advantage of living in god-awful heat is that it forces you to become innovative–innovative in so many ways. For instance, say it’s nine million degrees outside so you don’t want to go to the grocery store to buy ingredients for dinner. What do you do? You forage through your freezer to find something that you can manipulate into a meal without using any heating elements at all, because even a fucking toaster puts off more heat than you are willing to release into your swampy home. You might be surprised what you can do with an ancient frozen zucchini bread, frozen peas, and all the leftover ice cream nobody wanted. Think of the money saved by avoiding that trip to the store. And you can brag to your friends that you are recycling, reusing, and reducing, even if it’s if only the contents of your freezer.

Amazingly, the increase of innovation is not limited to food. Did you know that you can put your underwear in the freezer for like an hour and then when you put it on it will chill your genitals to the degree that you almost welcome the warmth that returns when your chonies thaw and the water in them evaporates into the oven-baked air? Just be careful not to put them in there after you have already sweated into them, because they’ll freeze up into a sold cold mass that could knock out a window, and you don’t want to let in any of that evil hot air.

In a zany, roundabout way this heat is also good for the environment. The planet’s ecosystem is complex and relies heavily upon symbiotic relationships between many species; I like to think our backyard is contributing to this beautiful process. Since the triple digits have ascended upon us (up from the depths of Hell) I no longer sweep or spray off my front porch and surrounding area, leaving spiders free to make their sticky webs that now drape across the width of the porch in their lovely, lacy way. Birds now swoop into our porch area, tempted by the hundreds of flies trapped there, looking for all the world like a savory, stringy smorgasbord for pigeons and sparrows.

Our cat Mo–long hated for his murderous behavior towards backyard birds and squirrels–is keeping the whole food chain thing going by promptly pouncing on the birds who line up at the fly buffet. Seeing a dead bird on our porch now is as common as the feeling of a spider web clinging to your sweaty face or the particular pain of blistered, weeping feet when you’ve forgotten your shoes and you thought you could just sprint across that strip of concrete.

Some quick additions to the list of benefits:

~clothes drying on a rack are ready in the time it takes to cook something in the microwave that you should have actually baked in the oven

~you are less likely to get robbed because it’s unbearably hot outside for the criminals too

~you save money by not throwing dinner parties or having people to your home because you know they wouldn’t be able to “take the heat” as the old adage goes

~you spend less money on going out because even though everyplace you go is chilled like a meat locker you still have to walk from your car to the door of the establishment across burning-hot-like-lava asphalt which feels like what I imagine fire-walking feels like, and that thought alone makes the idea of going out sound like a horrid idea. 4

At current writing, my husband has either had enough of the heat, or he is totally over being married to a crabby, sweaty, verbose woman, and has called in an expert: a local air-conditioning company whose name was still barely legible on the side of our ancient unit.

The man who crawled up into our hot and dusty attic (and who has the same first name as my husband) to assess the situation told us that the unit we have there was installed by his deceased father, who started the company. My husband Brad was telling me this great story about this other Brad and his father, but I was impatient for him to cut to the part where we were getting a new AC.  I might have been slightly rude. I can’t tell you exactly what transpired during the appraisal of our home with the other Brad, because when my Brad was telling me I couldn’t quite hear him over the whirring sound of the various fans in the room. I couldn’t even see him really; my vision was blurred from all the sweat rolling into my eyeballs.

What I do recall is this: there’s no point in trying to save the old 5 ton unit; it was like space age technology at the time it was installed, but now it’s practically prehistoric. We’ll need another 2 ton unit for upstairs, too, if that’s what we decide to do. We don’t know what we’re doing yet. We don’t even know how much it would all cost yet. But the point is, we’re doing something, and the thought of that is like a sudden and unexpected cool breeze on a hot day.

IMG_2925Until that time, you can find me in my own backyard, in a six foot round pool filled with water and a few ice cubes still impossibly intact, reclined on a giant floating alligator from Costco. We bought the pool (and the alligator) for our 4 year old grandson, but he doesn’t mind if I use it. I found it to be the best way to stay cool; additionally, while I am immersed there in a plastic dinosaur kiddie pool, I have been given the opportunity to enjoy the fresh smell of grass, experience the muffled silence of floating with your ears underwater and your eyes closed, and be positively grateful for the moment I am in, even though I know that as soon as I get out of the pool I will be hot and crabby again. It’s the marvel of the human spirit; it’s the rise of the phoenix. Or something like that. I can’t remember. My brain is fuzzy from this godforsaken heat.

¹I use the word “issue” cautiously as I know the disdain it causes in a former professor, who snarkily reminded us that it’s just a wimpy, meaningless word for problem.
² I mean, we’re not poor. My husband makes very good money and I make crap because I’m an adjunct college professor; we’re certainly not living in poverty. We have an amount of money that comes in and it seems as though that exact exact amount goes out pretty quickly. There’s not a lot of extra.
³If you write to me and say, “Well,  why don’t you move, then?” I will personally show up at your door and spit a chewed-up Moon Pie* in your face when you open it. There are about a million reasons why we haven’t yet, and they involve family, jobs, money, responsibilities, etc.
*The Green Mile. Directed by Frank Darabont, performances by Tom Hanks, Bonnie Hunt, Patricia Clarkson, and Michael Clark Duncan, Castle Rock Entertainment, 1999. Film.
4 I once had a professor who participated in fire-walking on the weekends. He told us crazy stories about walking across hot coals and how it’s all about mind over matter. One class he entered the room on crutches; apparently the burning hot matter had gotten over the mind on the previous Saturday night. This same former professor is now one of those guys on the internet whose smiling face (which strongly resembles that of Geraldo Rivera) promises you the “power to prosper” which can be found in one of “over 30 books on professional & personal quantum achievement”. I don’t know what that means. It’s something about getting rich on the internet.
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Trump, the New Year, and Me Too

I like the look of 2018 better than 2017. I don’t mean the year itself, because how could I know? Who can ever predict what will happen in a given year? I’m actually referring to the look of it. The last number–8–is all round and curvy–not sharp and angular like a 7– looking like it doesn’t know which way to to go, as if it starts out one direction and then says to itself, “Oh hey what the f–-this is not–-I need to go another way.”

The nice, soft, curvy 8 looks like something you could rest your head on. Something that will be more forgiving, and allow for some bounce-back. I want to love 2018 and by the looks of it maybe I can.

Or, it might look like a continuous loop. Just the same thing going around and around endlessly. I think this is my fear.

U.S. President Donald Trump tosses rolls of paper towels to people at a hurricane relief distribution center at Calvary Chapel in San Juan, Puerto Rico, U.S. October 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Full disclosure? In 2017 I became something I do not like.

One autumn morning in 2017 my husband was putting on his shoes at the end of our bed–I was still halfway under the covers drinking the latte he brought me, which he does every morning, still, because he is a much better person than I am. I was muttering about something I’d just seen on my Twitter feed, maybe it was the Pocahontas comment Trump made about Elizabeth Warren, or that stunt where he threw paper towels at Puerto Rican hurricane survivors, or maybe I was just grumbling about Trump’s irritating inability to capitalize correctly, or his overuse of exclamation marks–honestly it could have been about a million things.

My husband, with his back to me, still sitting on our bed, randomly mentioned that he’d heard something at a lecture he had attended the day before. The woman speaking said something to this effect:

“Do you want to be defined by what you hate? Or by what you love?”  

After my husband went to work; I was left wondering just exactly how random that random comment was. I thought about it for a few days. And somewhere between my latest tweet to Donald Trump and my latest Facebook post  in which I plead for everyone else to see with me–and be horrified, and help me figure out what to do–how to fix this–SOMEWHERE IN THERE–I realized that I spend a lot of my day hating. As in, actually feeling hate.

I didn’t used to be this person. No, really, I didn’t. I’m all about love. I think it’s the most important thing and it can save the world and each of us individually and all that. I’m all in with Jesus and Buddha—and The Beatles—on this one. Love is all you need; love wins, it conquers, it’s why we’re here–I believe it all.

And yet.

I wake up hating.

I wake up hating the fact that Trump is still in office. I hate how he denigrates our women, our dreamers, our LGBTQ citizens; I hate his son standing there holding an elephant’s tail; I hate those pussy-grabbing-move-on her-like-a-bitch remarks and the fact that people–women even–still voted for him and I hate them for caring so little for themselves and their sisters and daughters. I hate how pathetic we appear to the rest of the world; when I was in Portugal and Spain and France just after Trump’s inauguration I hated feeling embarrassed of us, of our country.

I especially hate how my students whom I admire for their work ethic and determination are living in fear of being deported; I hate the things Trump says–I even hate the way he says them. I hate his facial expressions and his hand gestures and his ridiculous hair and I hate how I feel so sorry for his stone-faced wife who has to endure god-knows-what and I seriously could go on a lot more about the things I now hate on a daily basis.

This is the part where I’m supposed to tell you about this new leaf I am turning in this new year. Where I stand up and proudly proclaim “New year–new me!” Where I tell you about the tools I will have handy when these hateful feelings rise up in me.

But that’s not really the deal.

I try. I really do. Today I wasn’t even thinking about all the stuff going wrong, I was prepping for my classes and petting my dog like a normal person, but I accidentally learned about the Eric Trump/Ellen DeGeneres/Deep State bullshit and that ridiculous tweet from Trump where he brags about the size of his nuclear button. How was I supposed to not hate that? HOW?!

My daughter tells me I could just stop reading the news. Get off of Twitter. Don’t follow the links.

And for god’s sake, Mom, don’t read the comments.

I could do this, I suppose. I’m not sure I could do it for very long, though. Because it feels less safe to not know. I don’t want to be blind-sighted. I don’t like being surprised. Ask anybody who has ever startled me in a hallway; I don’t deal well.

A friend of a friend of mine just published a piece recently, in which she describes symptoms and feelings she’s had since November 8th, 2016:

“My long-ago post-traumatic stress diagnosis, the legacy of a past laced with violence and sexual abuse, is suddenly relevant again after years of relative peace.”

I think about this sentence for days. I wonder if it explains my symptoms as of late: insomnia, depression, edginess, simmering rage, and these inescapable feelings of hate.

When sixteen women come forward to tell us they have been kissed or sexually groped against their will by Trump, I am so angry I am inconsolable. Suddenly, faces I have not seen in years appear before me like apparitions, and I feel their unwanted hands on my body: the fraternity boy in college who–in the middle of a card game—grabbed my hands from behind and pulled in opposite directions, saying “Now we’ve got some cleavage, boys.” Or the man on the BART escalator—in my late 50’s—who grabbed me from behind with his whole hand and squeezed, digging his fingers into my flesh before he quickly took off, laughing over his shoulder at me; the guy in the Hallmark store in my 30’s  who stuck his hand up my dress while I was shopping for Mother’s Day cards.

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And I again see the pink fleshed hands and white hairs of the old man who placed his hand on my 13 year old breast and kissed me when I was babysitting two little girls who called him “Grandpa Bob.”

When I hear that during the Miss USA AND the Teen Miss USA pageants, Trump would often enter dressing rooms unannounced, and that he had told Howard Stern, “I can get away with things like that” I think of the distant cousin who entered a back bedroom at my grandmother’s funeral, where I was breastfeeding my infant daughter, and stuck his tongue in my mouth; I pushed him away with the hand that was not holding my baby; he later denied it.

They always deny it, don’t they?

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When Trump denied it, he said, “Nothing ever happened with any of these women. Totally made up nonsense… Nobody has more respect for women than me!”

And then, he became president.  And I became a person filled with hate.

Please don’t give me your kind recommendations to meditate or pray or do yoga or journal or smoke weed or get more sleep or eat better or whatever else you think will alleviate the bone-deep anger I feel right now. Not to belittle your great idea but chances are I’ve already tried it or am already doing it.

And besides, I am still hopeful. Anybody who is taking comfort from the shape of a number is definitely trying to be hopeful. Am I right? I have some ideas about limiting my exposure; I’m looking to involve myself in actions and situations that help, that contribute, that encourage. I have students at the college where I teach who are children of immigrants and need educational and outside help; I can march in protest to make my voice join with others and be heard; I can share my beliefs with others in ways that take their needs into consideration; I can encourage young women to see themselves as strong and powerful–capable of resisting, of advocating for themselves.

I resolve to try to hate less. To really try. Because I know sowing hate reaps hate and it comes back twice as ugly. I will do whatever it takes to stop hating, lest I become part of the problem. I want to define myself by love, not hate.    

But.

2018–no matter now welcoming it may look– still has a dangerous, inexperienced, misogynistic, immature, immoral little man as its president. He still has the button. We are still threatened by him. We still live in a country where people think he should be our leader–and I think that is the scariest thought of all–the one I hate the most. I think it has made me trust humanity less, and that is a sad, sad thing.

Both of the following statements are true in the new year: we can still hope; we are still in a frightening place.

So here’s to 2018 and the hope that it’s as good as it looks, that it welcomes in more love and less hate, for all of us, and that it is, after all, not an endless loop of the same.

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Apparently You CAN Go Home Again #ouchylovehurts

I’m on a train, headed back to the bay. Awaiting me is a classroom full of books and mementos to be packed up, and an apartment with more of the same. After about four years of living in the beautiful bay area I am moving back to Fresno.

This was not an easy decision. Have I mentioned that I love the bay? And perhaps you have noticed that I have fallen in love with the students at the private high school where they have miraculously allowed me to teach English and Drama the past two years.

And there’s the Fresno heat. My gawd, the HEAT.

But, the thing is: family. I’ve been away from them too long.

In the fall I will begin teaching English 1A at Reedley College. I’m excited for this job. Reedley College was my first choice, as I have always appreciated their focus on and attention to local authors. I’m excited at the prospect of being around other writers and professors. I’m excited to teach at college level. I’m excited to meet new students and colleagues.

The heart, though. It’s a tender muscle. These days it feels stretched, and pulled, and it aches.

I partly blame my students, who upon hearing of my departure began the process of torturing me. This took different forms: hugs, loving notes, and warm sentiments were dished out in a much lesser degree than sarcastic comments, messages on my white board about my desertion of them, and lots of comments like, “Hey Barker–maybe next year we can–oh wait, never mind. I forgot YOU ARE LEAVING US.”

Together my students and I have walked across Spain, studied the stories of others, learned each other’s stories, played games, pranked our principal, eaten meals, slept in cabins, toured San Francisco, put on plays–even Shakespeare (sort of), prayed, worshiped, laughed, cried, danced, and so much more.

I’m also leaving some amazing colleagues, who found various ways over the two years to show their love and support–not the least of them being providing transportation for me when riding my bike just wouldn’t work. They have made me laugh when I needed it most, showed immeasurable patience, and extended a lot of grace. I love them truly.

I’m pretty old now, and have said a few goodbyes in my day.  You’d think I’d be used to it. But nope.

On this day I am grateful for so many things. Perhaps, most of all, I am thankful for the people who live in my heart. I may have said goodbye to them, but they are still with me. They always will be.

 

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I’m Leaving the Country Today #mycamino

I’m leaving the country today. If I weren’t, I’d be marching in the city with other women in protest of the debacle that we all are bearing witness to.

But I don’t want to talk about that.

Today I am leaving the country with a fellow teacher and seven high school students. We’re walking across Spain on the El Camino de Santiago. 

Years ago, I learned about the Camino from my (most honored) English professor Craig Bernthal. He showed us stunning pictures of lush green hills, crumbling old cathedrals, and a long winding path marked with sea shells to help pilgrims find their way.

He spoke of a spiritual journey, a time to ponder, to test yourself, to question.

I thought it to be the most astounding thing.

I never thought I would do it.

The school where I work gave me the chance and I took it. In about two hours I leave for ten days. img_5682-1

We will walk long days in the rain, have lunch at cafés, and sleep in albuerges surrounded by people from all over the world.

I will be in Paris tonight.

I’m leaving the country today–grateful, expectant, and a bit troubled to leave my husband and family so far behind. I’ve written all their initials on the shell that is dangling from my pack; I’ll be carrying them on my back and in my heart.

It’s my 60th year. I’m walking across Spain.

I’m always given more than I deserve.

#mycamino

 

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Will

Just before I heard you died
just a moment before
I heard you’d gone
I’d been holding this
worn copy of Beowulf
and I’d laughed because
Remember?
how you loved Beowulf
and I didn’t?

Remember?
how you could
sit with a person
sit next to a person
and make them feel
so smart
and so significant?

Remember?
how you had such darkness
and such light
and one did not diminish the other?

And did you know that your presence
was so tangible
always?
I think,
because you had so much
mind and heart
that your body could not contain it. But–

Remember?
how you made me laugh
and made me think
and taught me
and pushed me
and Middle Earth days
and sonnets we spoke
and the professor we loved?

Remember?
the girl who struggled
in class and you–
no one knew it–
but you–
you got her through it,
didn’t you?

Remember?
how we–
my husband and I–
we danced to your music and
your soul was on your sleeve
and in the song?

but this is where I had to stop
because the thing is

it’s too hard
right now

to believe

that you

are gone.

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The Puzzle

In a cabin on a creek
unexpectedly
alone which is so
unfamiliar and

as strange as the sound of rain on the roof
in this drought.
Even the sound of thunder
and not just the teasing of the air with electric shivers
we’ve known as of late
but real thunder so loud you remember that poem and the line
what the thunder said
as you stand in the doorway watching water drip from pine trees.

But earlier,
before the rain fell,
when the air was still
and thick with promise
you found the dusty puzzle box
and the soft tussling sound you heard
as you lifted it
brought your father’s face before you.

Or not his face so much but him,
and the way he tapped the
bright, snug cardboard pieces
when he found the one,
that one piece that fit just so
right there
and made a bit more sense
of the farm scene
or the seascape,
or the raccoon faces peeping at you between fall leaves.

And the way you felt when you
were permitted to sit there
right next to him
working with him
to find that one piece
you know the one
the one that’s shaped like this
“Like this right here,” and we would
bend our heads together to find that one piece.
That one piece that would solve the puzzle.

But the puzzle is always too
big. It is too
intricate; and
you are certain some of the pieces
are missing.

The thunder stops and the rain, too.
But you stay inside because

you like to pretend

that the water still pours down on you and
the drought is over and

your father sits next to you

with his clean-shaven cheeks.

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Yes. All Women.

Woman-Falling-Down-Escalator--87517

photo credit: Vase Petrovski

Yesterday I was at Fruitvale BART, as I often am, riding down the escalator in the midst of the evening commute. It was really crowded, and I was over to the right of the narrow stairway, since I wasn’t in a hurry. (Typically people rushing to make a train or bus or get to work on time move at a faster pace and stay to the left.) The crowd started shifting around to make way for a group coming quickly down the left side. From behind I felt someone pressing against me so I tried to lean forward, but it was so crowded I couldn’t move much. In that second or two that I was somewhat trapped, the man behind me leaned into me, grabbed my ass with his whole hand and squeezed it, digging his fingers into my flesh; he laughed in my left ear, his breath and spit hitting my neck. He stepped to the left and hurried down the steps before I could even recover or respond and I watched him scurry off laughing and smiling back at me. A smallish black man in his 30s, in a baseball cap. When my own feet finally touched the unmoving floor I felt unsteady, as if I might fall over, or collapse in some humiliating way.

It’s not the first time something similar to this has happened to me and I’m sure most women would say the same. I think now that I am older I become even more enraged when something like this occurs. Maybe because I am coming at it from a place of more understanding about how women are valued, or more accurately: the twisted ways in which women are valued and devalued at the same time.

Women are shooting shit into their asses and their lips, slicing open their breasts to shove packets of crap into them, and paying lots of money to have their skin scraped, pulled, or otherwise manipulated. Our value seems to be found in the level of desirability we can achieve—at least the level and shape that the media touts before all of us as desirable—and women are doing terrible things to their bodies in their desperation.

When we walk down the street our bodies are vulnerable to leering and comments and even aggressive and unwanted groping. In that recent moment on the escalator I felt inexplicably and maddeningly embarrassed, as if I had done something shameful, and that infuriates me; I am still angry at not only the grinning man in the baseball cap, but at myself for my vulnerability, and my inability to stop or prevent this—my failure to retaliate or protect or punish.

It’s time to evolve. Time to raise our daughters to believe that their bodies are their own and not created for the pleasure of men’s eyes or hands or fantasies. Time to raise our sons to value women as more than flesh designed to gratify them. And—perhaps most difficult of all—time to look at ourselves and our own behaviors to determine how much a part of the problem we are. In countless subtle and powerful ways we tell ourselves and those around us what we think of women. Our words, actions, behaviors, and expectations scream out our true thoughts, and often they do damage that does not undo itself for generations, if ever.

One afternoon I sat at a sidewalk café in San Francisco with my son, Nate, and a young woman wearing a short skirt walked by. Nate and I witnessed a whole lineup of men either outwardly leering or trying to sneak looks without being detected. Nate turned to me and told me about something he’d read that was sticking in his mind.

“Say you’re a young girl,” he said, “and you’re out to lunch with your dad, and you’re telling him something about school, or your sports team, or whatever. You’re telling your dad, but the thing is, while you’re telling him his eyes are following a woman who just walked by. You know what that says to the young girl?” my son asked me. “It says: ‘your dreams and accomplishments aren’t as important as this woman’s ass.’ Now she’s probably going to spend more time in her life improving her ass than herself as a person, because she’s figured out that’s what matters to the most important man in her life.”

Ogling a woman passing by is a small and subtle thing, I suppose. But the message it sends is powerful and pervasive. And what of a son in that situation? Pretend the girl’s brother is at the table. What is he learning from his primary male role model? That the accomplishments, dreams, words, thoughts, ideas of a woman are not as important as her ass (I’m using “ass” to stand in for body, breasts, legs—whatever is being leered at). Insert ‘wife’ or ‘girlfriend’ into this story, and think about how that might affect the ability to feel appreciated, understood, equal, desirable.

#YesAllWomen

Now that we have diminished women to body parts and flesh existing for men to enjoy, it seems some of those men feel perfectly entitled to grab and stare and otherwise use our bodies to get them off in some way—with or without our consent. #YesAllWomen is a movement that seeks to expose the treatment that all women endure. On the daily, tweets pop up in my feed with women relating stories like my escalator one; most of them are worse. I like that the emphasis is on all women, as I’m hoping and imagining that this helps dispel the idea that this sort of thing only happens to certain women who dress a certain way. Have I mentioned that I am 58 years old, and at the time this happened was wearing a t-shirt (with a high collar—not a V neck), jeans, and red chucks. Not exactly the attire of a woman who is trying to attract unwanted (or any kind of) male attention. Yes. All women. Even your daughter, your sister, wife, friend. Your mother.

I started to apologize, just now, for this rant, and to thank you for sticking with it. But then I thought better of it. I don’t apologize for this rant. I apologize to my daughters, my son, and my grandson, for the ways in which the world will (and has) hurt them, and for the ways I have hurt them in my own ignorance. For that time I didn’t say anything to the man who was so familiar with me in the grocery store that it made my six year old son feel angry and protective. For the times I valued my daughters’ beauty too much, or failed to teach them how to function in the world as a pretty girl and still know who you really are—I couldn’t do it for them; I couldn’t do it for myself.

To the man on the escalator, and to all of you with your leering eyes, your shouts and whispers, your laughter in our ears, and your spit on our necks: I think you are losing more than you are gaining. You are losing your ability to see women as they are: complex and brilliant, capable of deep love and intellect that goes beyond the bounce of our breasts or the meat on our thighs. You are pushing us away with your meager understanding, and with your foolish lack of control in the presence of our flesh. You are more than all of this, and so are we.

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