Posted by: Kate | July 29, 2014

Spastic Naked Scream

I have full respect for people who earn their living in the sales-and-commission world, whether they’re selling iPhones to entitled college kids or crystal meth to disillusioned yuppies, or anywhere in between. It’s not an easy lifestyle, and I am grateful that I have not had to spend large portions of my professional life there. And I have worked with some truly gifted, wonderful, personable, fantastic specimens of humanity whose resume happens to contain 27 synonyms for “convincing other people to spend their money on my stuff.”


Just like with the rest of humanity, there is a select subgroup — the vast minority of hemorrhoidally intrusive rays of sunshine who know exactly what I’m doing wrong with my life and how I can fix it — that creates far more unhappiness than any simple, polite, appropriate interaction can possibly begin to compete with.  These bastions of righteousness don’t just believe I will buy anything they happen to be selling, they know I will, as long as they can squeeze enough words in around the edges of the screen door. Whether it’s steaks out of the backseat of someone’s car, salvation in the form of My God (which comes with the free bonus edition of Why The Other Guy’s God is Wrong), or solar panels for my roof, every day for three weeks straight (I kept a tally sheet by the door for that one), someone out there knows what I need to fix my entire life, and they’re going to go so far as to bring that solution right to my doorstep.

Now, I’m not exactly a shrinking violet. I know how to make myself heard and understood, in nearly every situation…except when I am standing inside my front door, refusing to allow a stranger to enter my home. Sadly, “no” is rarely enough these days, no matter what volume or language I use:

  • English: No.
  • French: Non.
  • Spanish: No.

I can’t think why it torques me to have to express a word, repeat it, define it, use it in a sentence, define it again, and then snarl before they are ready to test the next word…And it doesn’t seem to matter whether the word is “no,” “go,” or a handful of choices I would prefer not to send back to school with the kids.

Of course, there’s always the logical response: “Just don’t open the door!” …but perhaps I’m on my own subilminal crusade to bring basic conversational respect and boundaries into mainstream society. Crazy talk, I know, but every worldwide movement has to start somewhere, right?

Maybe. Or maybe I just like to play mindgames with poor, unsuspecting folks, who might have thought that the most challenging aspect of my front door is simply reaching it, 18 stairs up from the street.

Whatever the underlying reason, the repeated failure of a simple “no” was steadily wearing away my will to open my door. It was time to come up with a new approach. Happily, my need to find a new approach coincided with the steady increase in the population of children in my home. I’m a firm believer that kids can handle chores from early on, and so why not have them start to earn their room and board a bit, just as soon as they’re able to handle the complicated procedure we call the Spastic Naked Scream. It sounds all technical and complicated, I know, and unfortunately I am bound by copyright restrictions to keep descriptions to a minimum.  But, trust me: once mastered, it is shockingly and delightfully effective in almost every situation.

So rather than chasing them away before they make it up the stairs, or allowing these uninvited guests to continueraising my blood pressure without even buying me a drink first, I will peek outside, then stage-whisper, “Uh oh! It’s… naked time!!”

Apparently, regardless of what they’re bringing to the door, their sales-training never entirely covers the possibilities at the Wallinga household. Our frequency of door-to-door sales, in all areas of commerce, have decreased significantly, and we almost never see any single individual return for a second attempt.

It’s a good system, though I do recognize its inherent limitation.  Emily is already 14, and while I am deeply grateful that she is not the kind of young lady who would willingly streak through the house under these circumstances, I also am mourning the loss of my loudest, most-spastic little minion.  Jacob is 10 (today! yikes!) and has abruptly reached the same “Naked Is No Longer Cool” phase, so I know that little Isaac, only four but he was just born like 20 minutes ago so I know my time of relying on my direct offspring is limited.  Perhaps by the time Isaac is ready to limit his naked-minutes-per-day, the technology of holograms and such will all me to set up a projection.

But, to be honest, I have to admit: I am really hoping there’s just no substitute for good old spazzed-out people (whether they’re in sales or childhood slavery, err, I mean, service).  Because if all else fails, it is a known and accepted fact that I lack the speed and grace necessary to execute a full Spastic Naked Scream routine more than a few times a month… but Willem, my 6’4″ hockey player, should be able to capture their undivided attention and that right quick.

Posted by: Kate | July 1, 2014

Hold…and Release.

I just left my job. Severe depression/anxiety, intense daily chronic pain, and various medical things I just don’t want to talk about..mall converging somewhere in between my brain and my heart (because both hurt right now).

It’s *just* medical leave/”short-term disability, and I’m to stay in contact and let them know and keep them in the loop and check in and touch base…

I mostly feel OK about it. I feel like I’ve been functioning somewhere around 75% all the time, whether I am at home or at work. And I’m not really ever anywhere else, because it’s just all too much lately. Work, kids, sleep — or, in the past month, laying there wondering why I can’t sleep.

My hope is that some time off lets me get my shit together and get back to where I was a couple of months ago.

My fear is  that I won’t get better.

But I have let go of some of my signature over-reserved-ness and leaned heavily on my husband lately. Unsurprisingly, he is several dozen types of amazing and has figured out ways to support me even when I refuse to lean, so of course he has been a rock star over the past little while. And I’ve been very honest (but careful) with the kids, who are already more resilient in the face of Mom-being-unwell than they have any right to be. They’re each beautiful and careful right back.

So we’ll be OK, as a family. No matter how OK or not-OK I end up.

Stay tuned…

Posted by: Kate | May 29, 2014

Squeal Like…

For several years — 2007-2010, I think –Gretchen & I went to Martha’s Vineyard, on little just-us getaways. It started out as a fun idea, to have time to let a new friendship build: within 6 months it seemed strange that I knew so few facts about her life experience, because, after all, we’d known each other forever…right? But then, it became a deeper, meta-vacation sort of thing. We had specific, extended, uninterrupted and nearly-uninterruptable time to sit and knit, or ride the bus, or walk, and just…be.

And it gave the significant others time to miss us…or, perhaps, time to imagine us donning lingerie and high heels for our nightly pillow fights. Whatever, I always came home to the same number of children that I left, so I was happy to ignore home when I was away.

So I already have more than adequate reason to miss those times. Even the really hard time, a handful of months after my 2010 nightmare, when I was still using a walker and overmedicated and chronically Not Myself. Because I got that experience that most moms seem to miss out on (time to just be) and time with Gretchen, whose simple acceptance and beautiful soul allowed me to feel like a halfway-decent human being, just by association…both when I was reasonably functional in the Before I Got Sick days and in the During, not to mention the After.

Apparently I’m getting maudlin in my middle age. I turn 37 tomorrow, that’s middle aged, right?


You might expect a certain degree of class — even snobbery — in anything to do with The Cape and Islands, particularly since we’ve been there at the same time as the Obama family, multiple other celebrities/politicians, blah blah. Even without the big names, it’s all cottages and pristine beaches and photo opportunities (and margaritas). So, you might expect similar muted colors and eco-consciousness, even at their little Agricultural Fair, right?

Right, me too. Such assumption was quickly disabused upon viewing the inflatable 20-foot rat immediately inside the entrance. So when we saw “Pig Races” on the itinerary, attendance was imperative.

I laughed for an hour straight, probably caused permanent damage due to oxygen deprivation. Best competition EVER. If we’d been just a little more prepared, we could’ve placed bets.

So, yeah. Good stuff comes in small, pink, squealy, astonishingly fast packages. Add it to the list of reasons why Gretchen & I have to return. The sooner the better.

Yeah, yeah, it’s been a while. Long enough that I bet you wouldn’t recognize my kids if you passed them on the street. Proof:

Emily is almost 14; Isaac just turned 4; Jacob will be 10 in July. *eek*

Emily is almost 14; Isaac just turned 4; Jacob will be 10 in July. *eek*

I shared the photo on Facebook with the comment, “Three kids, three Guys. I’m giving serious consideration to keeping them…definitely the Guys, they’re quiet and well-behaved. The kids are increasingly well-trained and occasionally well-behaved, but never, ever quiet.” A friend immediately replied, “What ARE they? Tribbles?” I started to respond there, but realized I has written far too much for a simple Facebook comment, and I might as well use this old blog thing I have laying around over here. So…


Are which Tribbles? The kids, or the Guys?

Actually, I’m relatively pleased to be able to say I don’t know what Tribbles are (Star Trek reference, maybe??). I understand that by admitting this, the University of Facebook will rush in to properly educate me on the topic.

No, each kid has received approximately a billion stuffed animals over their lifetimes, and only one ends up being The Guy.

Emily’s is Larry Monkey. He was an impulse purchase due to good behavior during a mammoth K-Mart trip right after we bought our first house, and it took a few weeks for us to realize that Emily had attached more firmly to Larry than any of her other critters. (She named him. We have never known anyone named Larry, so I guess this is a situation where he whispered his name and she heard and understood.) So we went back to K-Mart, in hopes of picking up a backup Larry or two. Turns out, sometime shortly after we walked out with Larry, K-Mart cleared their shelves of all Larries and similar simians. I believe they also burned down the factory and killed all the workers, because we’ve never seen anything even remotely similar… but now she’s almost 14, so I’m reasonably confident of her ability to hang onto him.

Jacob has Black the Dog. He was purchased when we moved in 2011 and he was moved into the top bunk… apparently Black has the ability to attain lightning-fast speed and catch a falling boy in the middle of the night. (Don’t even try to tell me you never told your kids stuff like that. Jacob was never a good sleeper, so if that’s what it took to get him to Go To Sleep, amen.)

Isaac has Frank Moose. He’s a new addition… for a long time, it was Wilbur (named because he was a white bear…you say “white bear” several times, in toddlerese…voila! Wilbur!) but Wilbur is really small and Isaac is… not small. We were at IKEA a few weeks ago, and I bribed promised Isaac a toy of his choosing if he made it through the upstairs maze without meltdown. Which he did, and he lasered through the toy options and grabbed up this moose as though they were magnetically connected. Aww, cute, we thought, and fully expected Moose to end up shoved under the bed with the other dozen forgotten critters already down there… but, no. They have bonded. Again, no idea where the name came from, but Isaac was very clear and very consistent from the start that his name was Frank Moose. OK, then. Don’t question the Moose.

I’m delighted for them that they have Guys. I’m thrilled that they have that immediate security, something to shield them from the occasional Closet Monster, sibling infestation or early-morning sunlight. I’m happy that they can arrange their Guys to support their heads at the perfect angle for sleeping, at home or away.

And I’m ecstatic that the kids allow – even encourage – their Guys to take regular trips through the laundry.



So, there. A blog post, after a year of silence, and a pile of cute kids. What more could you ask for… except maybe more frequent posting? I’m trying, honest. We’ll see.

Posted by: Kate | July 6, 2012

A Choice of Realities

She refused to go to the hospital, insisting nothing was wrong. But after days of seeing proof otherwise, her daughter called for help. So rather than meeting her in a hospital room, I met her in her own bedroom.

She was courtly, both in appearance and in behavior. It was somewhat of a surprise, considering her evident poverty and recent losses and changes, but she had a certain way of holding her head and a certain way of looking at you that made you remember your pleases and thank yous; even if you typically used them, you were extra-careful to mind your manners around this lady.

She bore up under the onslaught of invasive, demanding questions with aplomb, and accepted the indignity of the situation with grace. She admitted to hearing things other people didn’t hear, seeing things other people didn’t see, and experiencing ongoing conspiracies on the part of her children, the government, and possibly alien agents, all with such gravitas and simple belief that it was easy to start to believe her version of events, to fall into her reality for a while. When it came time to step back into my own reality – the one that (I hope) most other people share, and therefore we consider it correct, even though we really can’t ever prove one version or another. We can just offer pills and therapies that pull other people’s reality closer to our own, as this lady has experienced many times in the past.

“Frankly, young lady, I don’t want to be on those pills right now. I know what they will show me. I know what they will make me feel. And I don’t want to feel like that right now. It’s too much. It’s too hard. I can’t handle it,” she pleaded with such dignity that tears came to my eyes. Because I knew she was right: the reality that those pills would bring her was horrible. It contained the untimely death of her partner of over 30 years, the abrupt move to a different state, the awareness that her primary caregiver is gone and there is no one left who truly wants to take his place. Her children will do it out of duty, but not out of open-heartedness.

We formed enough of a bond that I was able to tell her – gently, I hope – that even though her world felt better right now, it truly was dangerous to her at the moment. She was taking walks in the middle of the night, in an unfamiliar and not particularly safe neighborhood. She was accusing her children of horrible things. She was engaging strangers in uncomfortable interactions. It was time to return her to the medication regimen she had been on for so long, to return her to the more generally accepted reality, even though it was a more painful one.

She trusted me. She asked me to follow her to the hospital, and I did. She asked me to stay until they knew where she would be admitted,even though that meant staying hours after my shift, and I did. After her daughter left, she asked me to sit and hold her hand, just for a moment, and I did.

There are rules, and suggestions, about not getting too close to clients, about not touching, about not getting involved. And sometimes those rules are broken, I believe to everyone’s benefit.

Posted by: Kate | July 6, 2012

Blank Screen, Blank Mind

I said I’d write more often, didn’t I?

And I do… just not here. I post regularly on Facebook, and I’ve even started using Twitter more often. But somehow the tremendous expanse of white screen that greets me when I try to write a blog post just intimidates me into silence. Most days, I can’t even bring myself to click on the link, because I know I won’t go through with the typing.

There are reasons I know about, and likely reasons I haven’t yet figured out, for my blog-silence. There are readers that I know are reading, but whose presence intimidates or irritates or saddens me, depending the the person. There are words I’ve already posted that have caused pain or angst, which was never the intent (or, to be precise, I never intended to upset the people who were wholly innocent in the matter. I have no problem at all causing angst to those who acted in a way to earn it.). There are words I haven’t posted, which cause guilt and frustration on my part. So, it’s complicated.

But I’m trying, right this second, so that should count for something…right?

And the thing is, I want to post. I have a lot to talk about, because my life has taken a complete turn, and for the better. 2010 and 2011 were such dark, scary, difficult, painful years, so much so that I still avoid most reference to them when possible – though it’s rarely possible, because my entire life is measured in terms of “before 2010″ and “after 2010,” or “before/after I got sick,” so it really is pervasive.

But there is so much good going on right now. I love my job – LOVE it, and I am not overstating, even with capital letters. I feel useful again, productive, like I’m making a difference sometimes. (Of course there are shifts where I can’t touch the clients’ minds or they never needed to meet with me in the first place, but every once in a while I really feel like I’ve made a connection with someone. Just often enough to keep doing the job.)

And my new house? Oh, bring out the LOVE again, because there is no better word. It is a place of joy for me, a place I want to show off, because it’s so nice I still feel like it should belong to someone else, because I have no business owning a place like this.

Good stuff, all around. It’s so strange, to feel OK more often than not. I’m still struggling with back pain, some days intensely so, and there are the typical tiffs and child-annoyances to keep life interesting, but I’m OK.

I’ll try to keep the blog active. Honest.

Posted by: Kate | March 30, 2012

A Really Big Nutshell

I’ve written, once or twice, about how disproportionate words can be to the life experiences they represent.

At least, the big good things.

Somehow there are always words – and, often, far too many of them – for the big bad things of life.  The angers, the fears, the hurts.  Immediately after I woke up, in March 2010, my fingers would literally cramp and freeze because I was in such desperation to try and express myself.  To try and prove I was still alive, that I was still me… to the world, and to myself, because if I couldn’t believe me, how could you?

After a time, I realized that I was deleting far more posts than I was publishing, because I kept saying, and writing, and thinking, the same stories.  The same fears.  The same hurts.  Ad nauseum.  I couldn’t tolerate myself anymore, and it simply wasn’t helpful to keep rewriting ideas and feelings.  It would be boring and pointless to read a blog of someone who is basically content, not thinking too deeply about anything, just swimming along… and it was boring and pointless to write a blog when I was basically miserable, not thinking too deeply about anything, just swimming along.

Then, the words imploded.  They simply collapsed under their own weight, unable to bear the wounds they were causing.  Most of my readers friends were voluntary, insisting they wanted to see even the most mundane and repetitive drivel, encouraging me to write even while finding ways not to push too hard. Which only made me feel that much worse, knowing how sad I was making them. I hated to push more negativity out into the world, but I wasn’t able to find a way to keep it light, and so I became stifled.

You all knew, didn’t you, just how bad things were? You realized that I was in despair, and many of you would have suffered outright bodily harm if that somehow would have lifted my spirits. You sent kind words, and good vibes, and sometimes weird little elephant statues or CARE packages. If wishes were enough to heal a soul, I’d have been healed so quickly I would barely have realized I’d gotten hurt in the first place.

And you know what? Maybe wishes are enough. Not instantaneously, true, and not independently, but collective karma is as good a reason as any for the seismic shift in my life just lately.

(Hey. You. There, in the peanut gallery. Yeah, you. Shut it. I know I started this post by mentioning big good things and few words, and then spent 400 words rambling about bad stuff. Sit down and wait: I’m busy proving my own point.)

Because I could devote pages and pages to the explanation of the process, the transitions and key moments that led from Big Bad/Sad/Scary Point A to Shiny Happy Point B… or I could just skip to the good stuff:

1. I don’t have a serious seizure disorder. Maybe a low-key one, along with other neurological and psychological shtuff. I can handle that.

2. I do have PTSD, complete with anxiety, hypervigilance and dissociation. But this falls under the Good Stuff category because I’ve had PTSD before, and I know how to cope with it. I know how to live with it, and eventually I’ll learn again how to live after conquering it again.

3. I realized how much I missed my last job. How much I hated being completely reliant on Willem for all things financial, but more how much I missed being really, really good at something that other people valued and respected. So I went back to work.

4. I also really missed being a homeowner, and I hated seeing the market stay low and knowing now is an excellent time to buy. So we’re buying another house.

5. I’m OK.

6. Really.

I won’t promise to write much more often, because I really hate making promises I can’t keep. But I can tell you that I want to. I have things to say… some stuff I’ve said before, some stuff you’ve thought before, and maybe once in a while I’ll find something new and different to share.

Right now I’m very, very busy, mostly with adjusting to just how many minutes there are in a day now that I have things to fill those minutes up. I’m adjusting to needing work clothes, and having work to wear them in. I’m adjusting to being recognized by more people than those with whom I live.

But I can sense it. Right around the corner… that adjustment is en route. And once it strikes… I’ll write. More. A lot more.

Consider yourself forewarned.

Posted by: Kate | February 10, 2012

A Reason to Appreciate Living Outside of Michigan

Some people enjoy the whole political machine, organism, game, whatever it is the kids call it these days. Other people seem to hate it so much that it wraps around to form a warped sort of love.

I fall into neither of these groups; I vote when I feel that my vote can contribute to the process in some positive/informed way, or when voting isn’t going to make me late for work or mess with a child’s naptime. Once I have voted, I feel like I’ve earned the right to complain about politicians in between elections, regardless of whether I filled in the little oval next to their names. I watch Jon Stewart and read Newsweek and Time whenever I’m in a doctor’s office. Does that make me well-informed? Does it even elevate me above the level of basic ignorance? Probably not. I’m OK with this.

I find that many people seem to be just as personally invested and vulnerable about their politics as they are about their religions, and so I try to avoid stepping on toes – or egos – by generally steering clear of those areas in casual conversation. I don’t think the United States’ political system holds more than a nodding acquaintance with good enough, but it’s better than a lot of the alternatives and I know I don’t possess the intensity necessary to effect macro-level change. (And, frankly, if I did have that kind of intensity on-hand, I’d apply it to several dozen other areas before I even thought about politics for fun and profit.)

The short version: I’m lazy and cynical, and those are the stones that create the paths to apathy and ambivalence.

Lately, though – once every four years, give or take – that ambivalence has edged closer to distaste and outright avoidance. The flooding of the airwaves and clogging of the Internets in service of (mostly) rich (mostly) white (mostly) men selling themselves as cheaply as possible to as many customers as possible is unpleasant enough; the slimy, try-not-to-get-any-on-you residue from the smear tactics and name-calling turns it onto something overtly aversive to me.

So, I don’t watch political ads. I avoid the debates. And I could have mailed in most of my votes as absentee ballots two years ago and would have likely had a very high level of reliability between those and my choices now. (That is, as long as the vote-counters were willing to accept “Assuming these guys are running again, please reapply my 2012 votes to them again. For the remaining positions, please select a roughly equal mix of candidates from as many different political parties, ethnicities, age cohorts and whatever other demographic details apply. In absence of this level of information, please just fill in the little ovals in an interesting, preferably symmetrical, pattern.”)

I carefully avoid politically-leaning conversations with almost all family members because, to me, one’s political inclinations are fairly similar to one’s sexual orientation: you may experiment with various styles during your formative years, but by the time you’re an adult you have pretty much found your groove. Following the discovery of the groove, most people spend the rest of their lives digging deeper into it, so it becomes harder and harder to tolerate the idea of trying things a different way.

It becomes a very private thing, for the most part, though some people will always choose to make their living this way, amidst a certain inevitable degree of scandal and stickiness. And I firmly believe that you would have as much luck compelling a lifelong self-avowed far-left Democrat to begin stumping on behalf of Mitt Romney as you would have in coercing a lifelong self-avowed gay man to begin finding trees and bicycles sexually stimulating.

(Go ahead, sit with that image for a moment. And then try to convince me that the idea of forcing someone into a lifestyle of dendrophilia or mechanophilia is any more ridiculous than the idea of retraining someone’s homosexual proclivities.

…that’s what I thought.)

Anyway. (It really is an oddly compelling set of images, isn’t it? Enough to make a girl lose her train of thought. Now, where was I…?)

Right: political ads. I very, very rarely watch TV in real time anymore, and have become so spoiled by the existence of our DVR that if I somehow have to watch something during its regularly scheduled time, I feel resentful and often pull out a book so that I can read during the commercials. This protects me from the vast majority of political ads, and I typically use my iPod in the car, thereby keeping myself nicely insulated from lots of the media blitz.

Of course, I can’t avoid it completely. I listen to Boston AM news radio at least part of every drive into the city, so I end up aware of people and trends in government whether I want to be or not. Obviously, there are advertisements in the sidebars on Facebook, and I’m more than a little surprised that Words With Friends isn’t constantly being brought to me by a different earnest and deeply trustworthy politician-to-be. And don’t let’s forget the ever-increasing status messages and comments, when people we call “friends” (but wouldn’t be able to pick out of a photo line-up with their initials stamped on their foreheads) start oversharing their preferences, exploits, personal bests, proclivities and even deviancies, in service of “getting the vote out.” I find them vaguely annoying – no more or less relevant to me than requests for oxen or elf booties or an extra-large purple vibrator, depending on which game Facebook has convinced them to play – and deeply ignorable.

But yesterday, within the span of an hour, three people on my Facebook list (with no known interconnection between them other than me) mentioned the same political ad. The message had been approved by a rich white man in Michigan by the name of Pete Hoekstra, and if I could adequately describe the ad to you without providing a link, I would happily do so. After all, every time someone new clicks on his link, several million neurons die (I’m not yet sure whose, but it seems a logical consequence… and do you know what I’m paraphrasing there?).

I know next to nothing about Mr. Hoekstra, but what I have learned in the past hour is enough to convince me that I would prefer to have Rod Blagojevich reinstated as governor of Illinois than to trust this guy to represent me at any level. Blagojevich is slimy and crazy enough to believe his own words, true, but you can spot his crazy from a mile away. I don’t have any idea whether Hoekstra is any more adept at suppressing the crazy.

My non-fan-girl status centers around that little blurb that you hear at the end of political campaign ads, now: “I’m Joe Schmo and I approved this message.” I’d never given it much thought, but if I had, I’d have assumed it was just a legal thing to make some government campaign-funds-regulator type happy. But it appears that these politicians apparently actually do view and approve their own ads, and they often take part in the creation and design process, too. So this ad wasn’t some sort of twisted, reverse-psychology sort of gag on the part of his opponent, but a true reflection of some of Mr. Hoekstra’s personal and professional priorities.


Without further ado, the ad in question:

This is one of those situations where it would probably be easier to isolate the few things that are right about the ad, instead of focusing on all of the things it got so very, very wrong.

But where’s the fun in that? I started off trying to outline a few drinking games that could accompany this ad. For instance, everyone could do a shot each time the actress’ accent slips a little farther beyond the line between inappropriately faked to offensively caricatured. Or maybe everyone must drink constantly through the commercial except when she is saying “spend it now.” But those would probably work better if I were to subject myself to a larger sample of his oeuvre: I don’t care what kind of liquor you’re using, I think it would be very difficult to get sufficiently, brain-insulatingly drunk before the inanity of the ad causes hairline fractures to occur all over your skull. After all, a brain can only withstand a certain number of simultaneous aneurysms before it will start to swell. The problem with expanding my awareness of his complete videography is that I really just do not want to hear any more of what this guy has to say.

Then I started playing around with alphabet games, acronym contests, and the like. It could be fun to see what sorts of creative ideas people could come up with if they had to describe the commercial with words starting with each of the letters in, say, ASSHAT or SPEND IT ON POT (in that order, of course). Or find an adjective that describes the ad for each letter of the alphabet: Absurd… Bigoted… Caricature… Xenophobic… Yellowgirl (this term actually appeared in the HTML coding for the online version of the ad; Hoekstra’s team insists it was a reference to the color of her shirt and it has since been changed to “yellowshirtgirl”)… Zero apparent insight, seeing as how he has since pulled the ad (having debuted it statewide in Michigan during the Superbowl… whoops) but insists that the ad did what he wanted.

At the end of the day, though, it all stopped being funny. Or, to be accurate, it never was funny, but for a while I was able to focus on the brashness and flagrant political incorrectness coming from this career politician. I could lambast him for his thoughtlessness and raise a mock shot glass in his honor.

It didn’t take long, though, for me to remember exactly why it’s not funny… nor is it sad, or pathetic, or innocently stupid. It’s bullying, on a very high level: he’s a big kid on the playground, and he’s trying to raise his own stature by bringing his opponent down – or, at least, trying to. But not only did he try and level the playing field by name-calling and insults at his opponent, but he had a smaller, less powerful third party do it. A third party who is forced to act a little bit stupid (OK, maybe a lot) and whose smarm comes across as discordant as a toddler swearing: you recognize the words, but they just don’t make any sense coming from this seemingly nice, happy individual.

Ugh. I feel like I was able to set the stage pretty well here, but now I’m having a hard time articulating exactly why I hated this commercial so much. But I simply refuse to watch it again to remind myself.

I think you get the idea, anyway. I never held any votes that I could have given to this man, but I hope that at least one person out there in cyberspace happens to also reside in Michigan. Whether or not you vote for this guy is your business and I respect that; I just hope you were able to use this to add to your little pile o’ knowledge about the guy and ultimately decide where to best spend your votes.

They don’t cost much, those little votes, but they are priceless.

Posted by: Kate | February 9, 2012

One Step at a Time

Once upon a time, I would have to pace myself, blogwise. I had all these great ideas, and far too many words just itching to leap out of my brain and onto the screen. I actually would have several days’ worth of posts stacked up and scheduled, because sometimes I couldn’t suppress the urge to write and I didn’t want to go all manic and post several times per day.

That stopped, very abruptly, two years ago. When all I could think about, all I could experience, was illness, then every post started to slide toward that low spot – just like water pooling at the lowest point in a yard. The posts would pile up there, and sometimes I could gather them together and shine them up and make them fit for human consumption… but not always. And over time, the urge to post just faded away completely. I left the blog active so I could post when I wanted to, but i wasn’t sure if it would ever become a sanctuary for me again.

And it’s not a sanctuary for me again. Not yet. But today, I had things to say. I wanted to write: not to tell a story or document an event I might otherwise forget, but just to write. To admit that a topic has grabbed me by the brain, and to follow it wherever it wants to take me rather than just letting the interest fade away.

That felt good. I don’t dare get hopeful, to promise more blog posts or even hint that I would like to write more.  Failure hurts more when I know I didn’t have to set it up in the first place.

But I can appreciate that it was good, today.  It’s a start.

Posted by: Kate | February 9, 2012

Looking Like a Slut

I stumbled across this on Facebook this morning, and it has apparently gotten the gears inside my head turning. It’s obviously bringing more attention to the original poster than anticipated – apparently, until this week, her friends list was comprised of people she actually, you know, knew. Now that one of her posts has gone viral, she’s receiving the random Friend-Me-Friend-Me requests that a certain breed of user employs. Just like anywhere else on the planet, you can place your emphasis on quality or on quantity, and for some, a long list of friends is an acceptable substitute for human interaction.

Anyway, I saw this little back-and-forth, and it caught my attention.

It might have done nothing more than garner a few “likes,” maybe a comment or two, and then fade into oblivion, like the vast majority of Facebook posts do. (I’m still waiting for a way to effectively search through my own Facebook history, aside from laboriously clicking back in reverse chronological order, a week or so at a time… whenever you’re ready, Mr. Zuckerberg.) But one of my dear friends replied with, “Agreed about the blame being on the perpetrators, and that we need to raise our boys to respect women and that no means hell, no. I still wouldn’t want my daughter going out looking like a slut, and it has nothing whatsoever to do with rape.”

I started to type in my own response to her comment, and it quickly became apparent that I had quite a bit more to say. Enough that I decided to cut-and-paste it all over here. At the heart, I’m agreeing with my friend… not entirely sure whether I’m expanding on her comment, shifting from its focus, or what, but I’ve been playing in this great big online playground long enough to know some of the rules. Like, DON’T TYPE IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS, BECAUSE PEOPLE DON’T LIKE GETTING YELLED AT. And, if there’s the slightest chance that your audience wouldn’t recognize sarcasm if they rolled over in bed in the morning and stared it straight in the face after a wild night of reckless carnal cynicism, go ahead and throw in an emoticon or a “ha ha” – even, in times of utter desperation, a LOL – because it’s a lot easier to say, “I’m just kidding, please don’t think I actually believe this,” than it is to say, “I’m so sorry I hurt your feelings. I thought you knew I was being sarcastic.” And, it is OK to Just Say No to LOLspeak; even if all the cool kids are doing it, you can stand up to peer pressure and use complete words and punctuation. (This last means you’ll have to keep track of those pesky homonyms, because you’re words look stupid if your not careful… and you cannot possibly understand just how difficult it is for me not to fix those particular words nownownow.)

And so on. The relevant rule, in this particular instance, is that if you respond to a two-sentence comment with several paragraphs, then your words might very well come across as defensive, abrasive, flaming… maybe all of the above. None of which is my intent at the moment.

So, my friend wrote, “Agreed about the blame being on the perpetrators, and that we need to raise our boys to respect women and that no means hell, no. I still wouldn’t want my daughter going out looking like a slut, and it has nothing whatsoever to do with rape.” And of their own accord, my fingers started to reply:

Well, yes, I don’t want my daughter looking like a slut, no matter where she is. But the obvious connotation of the original question is to suggest that a lower hemline is indicative of a higher level of internal morality. It’s in the same neighborhood as, “She asked for it,” which is just a half-block away from, “It’s easier for a girl to run with her skirt up than a man to run with his pants down… maybe she this wasn’t as non-consensual as she says.” In my book, the true criminal is the attacker, but any of his supporters who sit on the sidelines rooting him on – whether they’re in the room at the time or on the other side of the planet but crawling through all of those weird tubes of Internet – should be impelled to visit the attacker in prison. For several weeks at a time.

Sex crime is one of the remaining circumstances where we, as a society, are comfortable labeling it as terrible behavior. We insist that the mere concept of rape sparks internal outrage, and express smug pseudosympathy for the poor girl. Sexual abusers, of any kind (which often means “people who are attracted to people I am not attracted to and who do things I don’t want to do,” because what we find hot is hot and what they find hot is gross) are bad people who should be firmly punished. Except…

Well, see, but… the idea of sex crimes makes us uncomfortable. Especially if we recognize that some of our own proclivities aren’t universally appreciated, or if we know someone who has been accused (fairly or not), or if we know someone who has been hurt. Humans like to pretend that we’re in control, at least for the most part… that we have some say in how safe we are. That if we just eat healthily enough, get enough exercise, think before we speak, get enough sleep, and dress ourselves and our children correctly, then we’re basically safe. Bad things happen to good people all the time… but those bad things are often avoidable, if the good people had just gone about their days a little differently.

(This, by the way, is my gracious and forgiving version. I also have a much less benevolent set of thoughts about the tendency we have to find a way to blame the victim… but I suspect you all can get creative and figure that stuff out on your own. Include words such as “small-minded,” “reactionary” and “asshat,” and you’ll probably be able to reconstruct a reasonable facsimile of my not-nice version.)

Whether it’s well-meaning or not, at the end of the day, we often search hard for ways in which we can place at least some of the responsibility for a criminal act on the victim. Even when it’s as simple as, “Oh, she was just in the wrong place at the wrong time,” that implies that she could’ve done something different… and better. In the case of sex crimes, we move well beyond mental flexibility and become cognitive contortionists, just to find ways to make the perpetrator look a little less at-fault, the victim a little (or a lot) more at-fault, and the rest of us that much safer and more complacent in our own lives. So a rape victim’s clothing is preserved, following an attack, ostensibly to preserve evidence… but if she was wearing jeans and a sweatshirt, those items are likely to be laid out on a table in the courtroom, and if she was wearing a halter top and miniskirt, the clothing might very well end up on a hanger or mannequin, maybe even held up against the victim’s body, in order to accentuate the abbreviation of the outfit. It becomes somehow relevant that the victim has never had a serious relationship, or has never had sex but acted like she wanted to, or had a previously consensual relationship with the offender. It becomes OK to hint that maybe this woman sent out the wrong message, her whole life or just in the moments leading up to the attack… and the more desperate the defendant becomes, the less subtle those hints will be.

Back to the original post… I had a hard time with the last two phrases, in particular. First, let her go out? In m world, the concepts of parental permission and drinking parties are mutually exclusive; my parents were consistent in their message to me that chemical experimentation of any kind was simply unacceptable as long as I lived under their roof. (And, of course, my message to them was that I would respect their rules at least to the point of hiding the evidence and constructing a world of plausible deniability.) If this is a drinking party and you know about it, that tends to imply that your daughter is at least in the vicinity of 18, of legal adulthood; therefore, she has (ideally) grown out of the need for Mom to lay out her clothes the night before, or even for Mom to have a substantive say in the presentation and adornment of the daughter’s body.

I find this to be a sneaky little way of disseminating blame even further: now the parents of the victim can be added to the list. While we’re at it, we might as well point fingers at the girl’s friends, who should have vetoed the outfit before leaving the house, and perhaps at the stores selling the clothing in the first place… maybe we can start a national initiative to impel all adults to earn a Clothing License before they’re allowed to choose their own outfits? (Hmm… actually, I think that’s a fantastic idea, and if I get organized perhaps we could enact Kate’s Law by the end of the year, at least at county and state levels…)

Then there’s the last phrase, looking like a slut. Who decides? (And have you ever noticed that sometimes the people who have appointed themselves as special authorities on the matter are the selfsame people who have no business even touching the reviled outfits, much less wearing them, themselves?) It probably falls under that old what-is-pornography argument: “I know it when I see it.” But true sluttiness involves more than just a certain number of square inches of skin exposed, or a certain percentage of total skin covered. I can tell you that there are outfits my 11-year-old can put on, with long pants and long sleeves, and they somehow instantly accelerate her into a 15-year-old, complete with curves and postures that make me terrified and proud more terrified in the blink of an eye.  And, when I’m at the beach, I find it infinitely more appropriate when a toddler is running around completely naked than when she is has a leopard-print string bikini stretched over her swim diaper. It’s just such a huge, foggy gray area, kind of a Rorschach test; when a person labels an outfit as slutty, or goes one better and labels a woman a slut, I learn more about the speaker than I do about the outfit (or the wearer).

All in all, though, this really just an academic volley of words, spouted off because I had some free time today and I have some very strong opinions about this topic (“Gee, ya think??”). But if I was truly interested in answering the original poster’s question, I could stop him after the 18th word, before that nasty little slut word appears: I don’t want my daughter going to a party with guys drinking, at all. Not for many years to come. At least not until she’s out of the convent.

See? Much better to have turned this into a blog post and rambled on in my own space, because here, it’s a few clever turns of phrase and some perhaps over-emotive opinions on a debate that I take rather personally. If I had I put this on Facebook, it would’ve just looked like the opening volley of a flame war. Nobody needs that… if for no other reason than the fact that I’m fresh out of marshmallows for roasting.

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