Hold on, little girl…

This one might ramble a bit, because it’s been a while and I’m feeling rambly.

I have a 5-year-old niece; let’s call her C. She’s an incredible child (how could she not be, coming from such excellent stock?). Smart as can be, curious, a champion reader (again, natch, given her family), long-legged, prone to shrieking, possessing of endless energy, manipulative, maddening and altogether, well, FIVE.

I was a little sad that she wasn’t into the Women’s World Cup recently, but given her opinion of football – “it’s just a bunch of running and it’s boring” (and that was American football she was referring to) – that’s to be expected. She preferred to create her own parade around the house, only diverting her route away from blocking the TV after repeated admonishments.

But I wanted her to see those women play together – proudly, fiercely, unapologetically – and I wanted her to see them win. In all their purple-haired glory.

Women’s issues…those have been a slow and hard challenge for me. I am wary, perhaps too much so, of being influenced by the unrelenting agendas of the media and the political parties and the corporations in our country, all of whom make it their life’s work to manipulate our thoughts and emotions. But after reading and trying to “do my research” I can’t shy away from the fact that women, as an entity, still have a ways to go to shake off the reigns of a misogynistic history. Sure, there’s been progress. But we still get paid less than men on average, and as for all the justifications of that? They are justifications but that doesn’t mean they are ok. We still die in childbirth at alarming rates, particularly black women. It’s been a mere century since we were “granted” the right to vote…which puts to rest any theory that “all men are created equal” really meant “mankind.” 1 in 4 of us are sexually assaulted at some point in our lives, and based on the experiences of my female friends, I’d wager that number is too low. I could go on, but most of you reading this will have heard all of this before. That’s not my point.

My point is that my niece is 5 years old, and already I can see it at work on her. Or maybe not so much on her, but on her parents, who are trying to raise a vivacious, demanding, bossy little girl who can grow into a strong, independent woman…while also trying to teach her the values of caring, kindness and quiet.

Example 1: I recently gifted C a new toy, donated to me by a friend who was housecleaning. She was exploring the toy, enjoying herself, and then she eyed a piece of the equipment that didn’t make sense. We watched as she puzzled it out. She knew we were watching, and after a couple of fruitless minutes, she set the toy down and huffed “I’m done with that.” We grownups all looked at each other in both amusement and dismay. Embarrassment at being unable to figure it out…at the age of FIVE?! Luckily, she has great parents and they talked her through it, but oh my sweet girl it’s too early to be embarrassed for not being able to figure something out. I’m sure that someone will tell me that’s a part of life, and it is. But it took me decades to be able to be ok with not knowing things, and I just want to fast-forward through all that self-consciousness and self-doubt for her.

To be blunt, part of me wants C to grow up not giving a damn what anyone thinks. Because caring what people think is exhausting. But the rational part of me knows that I also want her to be self-aware, kind and compassionate, because that’s how she’ll find real satisfaction in life.

Which brings me to Example 2. Whenever my toddler nephew comes to visit, all objects within reach of his grabby little hands have to be placed out harm’s way. It’s C’s job to help with that whenever they come to visit. As she was moving things, one at a time, from the TV console shelves to the table, she came across my super old, reconstructed Outward Bound mug. She picked it up carefully and set it safely down, and I heard her murmur, almost to herself, “It’s only a little bit cracked.”

IMG_1554

For some reason, my heart gave a squeeze at those words. Because that mug is more than a little bit cracked; it’s a mess, held together with superglue and a prayer. I don’t know if her quiet little comment was for me or just an idle observation. Maybe she really thought it was just a little crack. Maybe not. But what I saw, in that moment, was my little niece trying to figure out how something like that – something broken and imperfect – could be valuable. It was a flash of the compassionate and loving person that I know she will grow up to be. And that our harsh, still-misogynistic world will do it’s best to defeat, in all the nefarious ways that keep cropping up each time we make a change for the better.

And thus we come back to those American women winning the World Cup. Who yes, had some privileges and advantages in their lives, but who also worked their asses off and did it as a team. They had different ideas, different beliefs, different hair, different sexual orientations, and maybe even different politics, but they still existed as a team and they set their goal and won it. They gave girls and boys everywhere the gift of seeing women playing a sport, playing it well, and celebrating their accomplishments. All while trying to actually do something more than “stick to soccer.” And all while millions of people tried to devalue their accomplishment with a deluge of criticisms.

I hope they are back in another 4 years. Maybe then C will be ready to pay more attention. Or maybe they’ll rise to the forefront of more than sports. Maybe C will grow up thinking nothing is odd about outspoken female athletes who challenge the status quo. That would be awesome. I say we keep working toward that.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to Google “where can I watch women’s soccer on tv?”

Advertisements

Why can’t it be Scout’s story?

Let’s start with one clear, unalienable truth: I love Aaron Sorkin’s writing.

I love SportsNight, A Few Good Men, Studio 60, and of course, The West Wing Seasons 1-4. I haven’t seen The Social Network, The Farnsworth Invention, or Steve Jobs, but I’m sure I’d love them. I mean, this is how much I love Aaron Sorkin’s writing: when I am re-watching The West Wing, which I have done many, many times, I find myself falling into Sorkin-esque speech patterns, so much that I have to stop myself lest my friends think I’m a pompous erudite with way too high an opinion of myself, like so many Sorkin characters. When I heard he was going to write To Kill a Mockingbird for Broadway, I was thrilled.

101032-11And then, I read this article. In his lovely, self-deprecating way, Sorkin talks about how terrifying and difficult it was to write the play, for all the reasons you’d expect when you’re trying to remake something that never asked to be remade because it was epic all on its own. He describes the moment when he figured out how to do it – he decided that Atticus Finch needed to be a protagonist of the story.

I haven’t read the book in a while. After I finish my current book, I’m going to. Because all I remember about it is that it was Scout’s story, and her dad, Atticus, was almost too perfectly heroic. I’m pretty sure that wasn’t an accident on Harper Lee’s part.

So when I read that Atticus needed to go on a journey that he didn’t take in the book, at first, I said “ok, sure, that’s storytelling 101.” And then, Sorkin wrote a couple of casual, almost flippant sentences that made something uneasy creep into my stomach.

In the book, Atticus isn’t the protagonist — Scout is. Faced with the brutal realities of the Jim Crow South, Scout loses some of her innocence. Her flaw is that she’s young. But for the play, I didn’t want Scout (or Jem or Dill) to be the only protagonist.

Later that day, I was walking my dog through the neighborhood. Apparently the article was in my subconscious, because suddenly, I stopped walking and said to myself:

WHY THE HECK CAN’T IT BE ALL ABOUT SCOUT? WHY DOES IT HAVE TO BE ABOUT ATTICUS (OR JEM OR DILL)?

As I’ve done all my life when experiencing such feminist flareups, I shoved it away as being “too reactionary.” And then, I stopped myself, and allowed myself to really think about it: Why can’t it be Scout’s story? I would LOVE to see what Aaron Sorkin would do with this story, framed by the innocence of a child, in today’s America. Why can’t he write that?

I don’t know the answer, and I’m not going to pretend to try. It’s a free country, and Sorkin can write whatever he wants and I will definitely go see it, and likely be swept away by his words and storytelling.

But I’m not ignoring that little voice that stopped me in my tracks.

It’s the same voice that popped up when I first heard the Hamilton soundtrack, and despite how much I adored it, wondered if the women had anything to do other than be in love with their men.

It’s the same voice that wishes Lin-Manuel Miranda had chosen to cast one of the founding fathers as a girl in drag. He broke tons of barriers with that show, so why not that one?

It’s the same voice that wished the Fellowship of the Ring had included a couple of Female Fellows.

It’s the same voice that has made me always want to play the role of Enjolras in Les Misérables, (other than that brief phase where I was convinced I was Eponine), or at least see some fabulous female play it.

It’s the same voice that wonders what the impact would have been if J. K. Rowling had created Hannah Potter, the Girl who Lived.

Today, also while out walking my dog, that voice piped up with the perfect encapsulating question. Aaron Sorkin begins his essay by sharing that a famous Broadway producer called him when he got the Broadway rights for To Kill A Mockingbird, and asked Sorkin if he wanted to write it. If we’re being honest, we all know that producer was not going to call any of the young, brilliant, not-famous playwrights out there today. He was going to call one of the best and most beloved writers of our age. I get that.

So why didn’t he call Shonda Rhimes? Now that’s a play I’d like to go see.

 

Of Gorillas and Guns and Expertise

It seems like a long time ago, doesn’t it? You remember, that time when we all became experts on gorilla behavior. And parenting. Boy, did we bring out the self-righteous pitchforks on that one.

Then, we got distracted from our armchair zoology by a 3-month sentence for a young man who sexually assaulted an unconscious woman, and suddenly we all became experts on judicial sentencing. And, it’s worth mentioning that, all sarcasm aside, there are far too many women who are experts at dealing with the devastation of rape and sexual assault. Far, far too many.

Then a woman made history by becoming the presumptive nominee for President for the Democratic Party. And of course we had to point out all the reasons we shouldn’t/couldn’t/wouldn’t allow that historical milestone to be celebrated. Because, you know, we’re all experts in political strategy and recent American political history.

And now we are wrestling with a horrible mass shooting, targeting those who really don’t deserve to be put through more than we’ve already put them through. And now we’re all experts on gun control and the 2nd amendment and LGBT issues.

To be honest, I’m tired of everyone being an expert.

The truth is, most of us aren’t experts at anything. We’re students of life. We’re observers. We’re laypeople; we can do our best to try to understand everything, but more often than not, we fail. Because we’re biased, because we don’t have all the information, and because sometimes, the information we have is wrong.

What we ARE experts at is far less noble than we think it is.

We are experts at judging people.

We are experts at wild speculation.

We are experts at listening only to those who speak to our particular bias.

We are experts at being mean, at cutting down others, at fostering fear of people who are different than us.

And we’ve gotten really, really good at crying out in pain, and having no way to channel our righteous anger into positive, forward-thinking action.

I usually try to end my blog posts with some sort of “but here’s how we could do better!” cheeriness. But I don’t think I can on this one. I don’t really know how. I guess I just want to say that I’m not an expert at any of the stuff we’re talking about these days. To be honest, this “un-expertise” has kept me from writing about all this stuff to date, because, really, I know nothing, Jon Snow. So I should just shut up, right? Maybe. But I do know a few things.

I know that I wish some real experts would step forward and help us figure out some of this out. You know, using facts and data and research and all that crazy, rational stuff. And I wish we had the guts to listen to them.

I know I’m grateful for my friends who ARE experts, and are doing all they can to help people.

I know it’s really sad that there is one less endangered gorilla in the world. And that it’s very good that there’s a little boy who’s still alive.

I know that I want to tell parents to give yourselves, and each other, a break – your jobs are hard enough without the world telling you all the ways you’re doing it wrong.

I know I must help the young kids in my life grow up to care for and respect each other, so maybe there will be fewer lives ruined by sexual assault in the future.

I know I will always remember the day Hillary Clinton smashed that glass ceiling and reminded us all to be thankful for the women who came before, who paved the path.

And I know that my heart is breaking for my friends in the LGBT and Muslim communities who are experts at being made to be afraid to live in their own homes, neighborhoods…and even their own country.

Maybe if we all became experts in taking care of each other, we’d do better. Maybe.

Mother’s Day through my (niftyfifty) lens

Some of my blog readers might not know that I have a weekly photo challenge over on facebook, where 2 of my fellow amateur photographers and I challenge each other to a weekly photo posting.

We have to take the photos with our 50mm lenses, which are fixed lenses that don’t allow for zoom, but also allow lots of light into the camera.

So today, the day AFTER I was supposed to post this week’s picture (this happens, because we get busy, and we are forgiving of each other, which is pretty great) I headed out into an overcast Boston day to see what I could get.

This particular photo walk through the Arnold Arboretum, my go-to space for beautiful photos and head-clearing, seemed fraught with…well…all of the feelings.

First, it was my first outing since I got my camera body replaced. If you must know the embarrassing story – I was on Waikiki beach last month, poised to get the best sunset photo of my life, when I stepped on a rock, which I later realized was covered in green slime, took a flyer, landed in a puddle, clonked my head, and, you guessed it, killed my camera. It took me until last week to get the warranty claim filed and order my new camera body (luckily the lens and photo card survived).

Needless to say, it felt really good to be back out with camera in hand. You might find this weird, but I enjoy the tactile-ness of having a camera, of raising it to my eye, adjusting the focus, and clicking. There is something calming and cool about that.

Did I mention it was overcast? Yeah, Boston is making like Seattle these days; we haven’t seen the sun in…well…I’ve lost track. If I’m totally honest with myself, it’s making me a little glum, making all those “what am I doing with my life?” questions stab just a little deeper. But as usually happens when I head in to the Arb, I found there was little room for those musings as my eyes and soul filled up with the glorious contrasts of wet wood with new green leaves, flowers in yellow and purple and pink splashing on the canvas like nature’s highlighters.

It’s also the day before Mother’s Day, and I was on a mission to find the perfect lilac photo to honor that day, and my awesome mom. But I also decided to play a little game; with each click of my shutter, I dedicated that moment of see-focus-click to someone else’s mom. This gave me the freedom to think about my grandma (my dad’s mom, whom I miss a lot these days), my other grandma (my mom’s mom, whom I never met), friends’ moms who are no longer with us, my sister-in-law who’s at sea, missing Mother’s Day, all the new moms in my life, etc. It was a nice game, and I thought it might make me sad (see previous paragraph about gloominess), but the opposite happened. I just wandered among dozens of fragrant lilac bushes, smelling, snapping, and thinking about moms. It was pretty wonderful. And it led to these (I’m out of practice, so they have some flaws, but just enjoy the first impression and refrain from pointing out those flaws, if you would be so kind):

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Here’s to Mother’s Day, everyone. I hope you get through it with good thoughts and memories.

 

 

Today I had a moment

If you haven’t really experienced it, you don’t know. You just don’t.

You don’t know what it’s like to put on a skirt and purple tights, and stare for long minutes in the mirror, fretting the skirt is too short, that you’re showing too much of your definitely-not-skinny legs. To wonder if you have the right to wear purple tights without first consulting Barney’s merchandising folks.

You don’t know what it feels like to muster up the courage to say screw it, you’re doing it…and to fret that rather than get whistled at, you’ll be silently judged, by that sly but always visible raking up-and-down of your body with contemptuous eyes. Eyes that are usually attached to legs far skinnier than yours, male and female alike.

You don’t know how it hurts to feel your hard-fought confidence shrivel up and die like a purple blossom in winter…in that one glance. How bizarre it is to want to wear a skirt and tights because it feels good to do it, and yet inspires such fear.

Today, I said screw it. I wore the skirt, and the purple tights, and yeah, maybe I walked around with my hands in the skirt pockets to be sure I was tugging it down as much as possible. Baby steps, people.

But today I also had a moment.

I caught of glance of my legs in a passing reflective surface.

In that brief second, I saw the 5Ks those legs has run, the miles of walking they’d done, the mountains they’d scaled, the stairs they’d climbed. I thought of how they chased Sadie through a snow-covered field in 18 degree temperatures two days ago, and played 2.5 hours of volleyball last night. I thought of how I can’t wait for spring so I can hike a 7-mile ridge, and summer so I can hike an 11-mile one, and how I have absolutely no doubt my legs can do both.

And I had this thought:

Well, they may not be skinny, but they are strong.

Hell. Yeah.