unwanted attention

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I don’t go places alone at night. I haven’t for a few decades. I live in a quiet, safe neighborhood where women sometimes walk their dogs or go running alone at night. Even here it’s hard for me to understand how they don’t feel fear… aloneat night. The only time I feel safe and at ease out in the world at night is when I’m with my husband. Because I know he could – and would – beat the shit out of anyone who might try to hurt us, to hurt me. Because he is fearless in a way I could never be. I’d love to live in a world where women feel safe, but that isn’t the world I live in.

In my early twenties I was more fearless. Or maybe just more stupid. During a college semester in Paris, I rode the subway alone at night and then walked home the few blocks from my stop, through my quiet neighborhood, to my apartment. Once I made the mistake of barely smiling politely at the middle aged man in a business suit who opened the door for me that led out of my stop to the street. The middle aged man who… What? Misread my signals? The middle aged man who started following me home, a short distance behind me, and who didn’t stop following me until I spun around suddenly, looked him in the eye and yelled, “Go fuck yourself, asshole!” I yelled in French, unaware until that moment that I knew how to swear with such vulgarity in another language.

Unwanted attention.

That same semester, a decade before cell phones and internet, I would walk the block from my apartment to make a calling card call to the U.S. on a pay phone in a phone booth that was missing its door. I called at night, Paris time, when I knew I would reach my best friend between her classes in California. One night as I was telling her a story, I saw a man walking toward me. He stopped two feet away from the open booth where I stood and just stared at me – a quizzical look on his face – for what felt like an eternity. I told my friend that I might have to drop the phone and make a run for it, trying to summon up my courage while paralyzed with fear. The worst possible scenario, my greatest fear, flashing through my mind. I could almost swallow my racing heart in my throat. Then he turned around and walked away, and I ran home still trembling, imagining how things could have gone, how trapped and helpless I would have been. I comforted myself – barely – thinking that he must have not been 100% well in the head; as if a mentally fragile man could be any less terrifying than one with a plan to actually pursue me.

Unwanted attention.

When I was in first grade I was terrified of the moment each morning and afternoon when recess would end and we would have to line up to go back into class. That was when two little boys would rush me, one on either side, and kiss me on each cheek before running away laughing to the end of the line. Twice a day they would make me cry. I don’t remember how or when it stopped, or if my teacher took it seriously. I think my parents did.

Unwanted attention.

In my early thirties I spent a night comforting a friend as she took the morning after pill. She had been raped by a man she knew while another man laughed and helped to hold her down. I held her hand as her uterus contracted and she relived the experience, doubting and questioning herself at every turn, wondering if she had led them on, if she had asked for it. As if she could have changed the story if she’d done something, anything, different. “Please don’t blame yourself for what those fuckers did to you,” I said over and over to her.

Unwanted attention.

The summer I turned 20, I went to Club Med on vacation with my family. The hyper Brazilian activities director with the bad perm went by the name of Doodoo. Doodoo wouldn’t leave me alone, kept nagging me to come do water aerobics or some other activity with him and a bunch of middle aged women; I think he thought we were lonely. I kept asking him to just let me read in peace under my umbrella on the beach. One night at the bar, where I could get virgin (and sometimes real) pina coladas with the payment beads I kept around my wrist, Doodoo sat himself down next to me and told me that I should lose weight. Because then I would meet some feminine standard he’d decided he was the arbiter of. Because I should give a shit what he thought of my body. I told him to fuck off. In English.

Unwanted attention.

I spent a good part of high school and college carrying more weight than I felt comfortable with. It was hard to feel good in my body when I didn’t meet the standards of beauty ascribed to me by whom… Men? Society? The media? I craved attention that I didn’t get. I was every guy’s friend, but never anything more. In a crowd of skinny California blondes, nobody notices a chubby brunette.

What does that mean, to want the attention and not get it?

Then to start getting it,

but it’s not me who’s in charge of

when and

why and

from whom,

but someone else?

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within the discomfort

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I’m sitting in the sukkah on our back deck. Poles of PVC tubing hold up three walls of plastic tarps, while the fourth side of the square structure remains open. The “roof” is wooden lattice, we didn’t get around to covering it with fallen branches from the trees in the woods across the street before it started raining. The rain stopped yesterday but it still smells wet, clean and fragrant. And it’s still humid from the hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico that caused devastation in Nicaragua but was only a storm by the time it reached northern Georgia.

The sukkah reminds me of when I first went to the Burning Man festival, where friends and I constructed a geodesic dome – also from PVC – covered by a translucent white parachute. I can’t remember how many rolls of duct tape it took to put that thing together so that it created some semblance of shelter and shade from the hot desert sun. But I do remember the massive high desert dust storm that blew off the parachute and almost blew away the structure itself and everything that was inside while we kept cover inside our cars.

Everything is temporary.

So striking – and humbling – when you are in the middle of a vast empty desert, in a temporary “city” that only exists for a week. This was back when very few people came to the festival in RVs and most people slept in tents or domes like ours.

That’s one of the lessons of the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, one of the reasons we build this “temporary dwelling” and spend time within it each fall. We’re also supposed to invite people into the sukkah, including the spirits of our ancestors.

Everything is temporary.

I feel incredibly uncomfortable right now. Last night I couldn’t fall asleep, my body was restless, my skin felt itchy and dry, my belly rumbled, my mind swam with unsettledness, and I was annoyed that I was so tired but still awake.

My beloved California – where I grew up, where I come from – is burning and I am so far away. One calamity follows another right now, before we are able to catch our breath, before there is time to recover. No time to heal, no space to hope.

Everything is temporary.

I think about all of the people in the world for whom this is their always. The constant worry about where their next meal will come from. The loss of babies from malnutrition. The temporariness of homes and jobs when there is income insecurity or no jobs at all. The fragility of health. Fear of violence. And even the ability to summon up hope for something better, perhaps, one day.

Somehow the discomfort feels like my responsibility right now, like this dwelling I need to sit in and stay connected with. Especially as someone whose actual home is intact, whose family is safe and well, whose pantry is full, whose job is secure, whose car runs well, whose children get to go to school, whose skin is white.

Are most of us feeling this right now, or are there people, maybe entire communities out there that remain untouched, that don’t feel troubled, that are not concerned? Is it business as usual for anyone, or is this now our new business as usual? Is there anyone who doesn’t feel like we have fallen into an irreversible dystopia fit for fiction? Because I’ve read a lot of those books and it doesn’t feel as though we’re headed there, it actually feels like we may well have arrived. Dystopian fiction is written as a warning. What we need now are prescriptions…

for resolution

for answers

for unity

for justice

for healing.

Please tell me that everything – even our collective discomfort and all of this pain and destruction – is temporary.

capacity & tears

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“Well some say life will beat you down
Break your heart, steal your crown…”

~ Tom Petty (1950-2017)

I cried at my desk today. The tears fell quietly as I was reading…

About Las Vegas.

Puerto Rico.

The Virgin Islands.

Mexico.

Houston.

Florida.

West Coast wildfires.

About the genocide against the Rohingya people in Mianmar.

The violence inflicted on innocent people by Spanish police during Catalonia’s elections for independence.

The relentless disease of racism in our country.

The brutality and militarization of American police.

The mass incarceration of black and brown people on American soil.

About our national addiction to the right to bear arms over the right to live free from the fear of violence.

The destruction of the EPA because who cares about climate change when there’s money to be made.

Last night I cried into my daughter’s belly as we listened to Tom Petty, who may have, in that moment, been breathing his final breaths. I remembered details of when I’d seen him in concert in 2009, on one of the most beautiful spring nights I have ever experienced, watching the most gorgeous sunset over the San Francisco Bay. Quite possibly the most incredible live performer I have ever seen and heard.

Last night it felt as if all of the rock stars of my childhood and teen years in the 1970s and 1980s were being taken away, one at a time. Last night I felt every single one of my years, hyper aware that when you’re in your forties, the people around you start to die more steadily. Should I be getting used to this by now?

Today I learned that a childhood friend had died of cancer in the past year. That was the piece that got me in that deepest place in my gut, and then the tears fell more quickly, less gently.

A dear friend recently told me that she thinks my “heart and mind have tremendous capacity.” Most of the time I think I can hold all this, the deep pain that is all around me.

The wounds I know my refugee clients hold from their experiences escaping war and losing everything they had known before.

The brokenness and injustice, in plain view or hidden, in every corner of my city, my state, my country, my world.

The image of the two black people who were pulled over by two white cops a few weeks ago when my family and I turned a corner in our car and we pulled over to film what was going on, just in case things went south and somebody with dark skin ended up dead. Thankfully they didn’t this time, but the imprint of the potential injustice that was happening before my eyes as the cops searched the car for what…? An excuse to lock up – or kill – two more black people for a broken tail light? For driving while black?

When I was younger I used to feel like a sponge, super sensitive to all that was around me. But I’ve learned with age that it’s possible to connect with the pain all around without being quite so absorbent. How to hold the pain without it getting stuck inside. Still, though… Last week I took Facebook off my phone, with no regrets. I needed the reminder that I am the one in charge of what information I take in, and when.

* * * *

Last Friday night and Saturday was Yom Kippur. For the first time in many years, I felt moved to actually fast completely. I still drank water so that I wouldn’t get a three-day headache, but this year it felt good not to put anything else in my body. I also powered off my phone for the day, which felt amazing. During breaks from the services I read and wrote in my journal. I walked around and talked to people. I sat with two very tiny babies and their moms whom I’d just met.

I cried a lot. Not just during the Yizkor memorial service, but at other moments too. While the most incredible cellist played the Kol Nidre melody, accompanied by organ and choir and cantor, and even more magically, when he played the melody solo. While I closed my eyes and connected with each of my relatives who have died, picturing each of their faces in my mind’s eye, feeling them close.

The veil between life and death feels thin at Yom Kippur, and I held both the humbling awe of that understanding and the comfort of feeling held by my ancestors and even my tiny baby daughter who died before me.

I don’t take any of it for granted. I’ve been through hardship, tragedy, loss and struggle. I know how incredibly lucky I am for the stability and goodness of my life. For all of the people I get to love and hold dear. For my health. For my home.

For my life.

It feels like an incredible responsibility, to hold that gratitude along with the awareness that things are so bad and so hard and so incredibly messed up in so many places outside my safe little cocoon.

The awareness that there is so much work to be done, so much light I need to summon up and magnify to help balance out the dark.

And the awareness that it is all so temporary and fleeting. And so precious and beautiful. Even the tears.