Thursday, October 22, 2009

What Does It Mean To Be A Man

A scorpion walks up to a frog and expresses his desire to cross a river.  The wary frog confesses that he is concerned the scorpion will sting him and thus he will die.  Our noble scorpion points out that if he were to sting the frog he would surely drown, thus ending his own life and not reaching the far bank of the river.  Persuaded, they set out to cross the river, frog swimming with scorpion on his back.

Midway across the scorpion stings the frog, as they both begin to succumb to a death that is certain the frog asks why?

"Because it's in my nature . . ." replies the scorpion.

You may wonder at the wisdom of starting my post off in such a fashion.  Buddha teaches that "right" should be our compass, and right speech causes me to wonder at my place in this discussion.

"And what is right speech? Abstaining from lying, from divisive speech, from abusive speech, and from idle chatter: This is called right speech."

It would be terribly off topic for me to get into ethical practice as taught by Buddha or even Christ, for I am neither and it would not be my place.

Similarly, because it has never been in my nature, I would be a poor spokesperson for Men.  Especially given my history with them.  In "She's Not There" Jenny Boylan talks about developing an oppositional relationship with men as she makes her own journey toward self.  I remember marveling at such a concept as I read her book for the first time.  For me it was as alien a concept as any I'd ever come across.  She also waxed poetic on breaking out of the habits of old, that of having an oppositional relationship with women.  Again something I didn't understand or relate to in any way.

In my own travels I've spent the better part of a lifetime trying to break my oppositional relationship with men, and thus have a better, or at least healthier relationship with them.  I have always looked to women as people I innately understood and could relate to, because that was just how my heart and soul have always worked.  I could and did spend hours, days, years having deep and meaningful conversations and relationships with women, and men fell into two classes.  Those who did abuse and mistreat me, and those who, given a chance, most certainly would.  They have, despite my best intent, remained aliens to me.  Conversations with them typically started and ended with hollow pleasantries, and empty context.  In their defense, they understood me even less than I them.

After all for a goodly number of years I looked like, I should be, one of them.

Alas, it was no more my nature than an alien with a disguise that made them appear human.  Or the scorpion who by killing the frog, doomed himself.

Survival was, for me, a matter of some incredibly complex rules very much like computer programs, to afford me some level of camouflage.  I drew upon the iconic images of "manhood" available to me at the time.  "Kirk, Spock, Scotty, McCoy, with measures of Steve Austin, Steve Trevor and Colonel Hogan thrown in."  It was a role I clung to as a drowning woman awash in turbulent waters might cling to any scrap of wood to help keep her afloat.  The only real redeeming feature of my characterization was that I was every woman's friend and potential mate.  Long after I was married, people were wondering how to have me cloned, because after all, I was the PERFECT . . ."  And I still cannot bring myself to use the honorific afforded to male spouses.  Friend's Mother's dreamed their daughters would find a "guy" like me.  Every time I heard that I laughed, cried, and died a little bit inside.

When no longer could I take the strain of such an egregious, ongoing lie, I took steps to embrace my nature and everything that meant.  Poor Mr. Frog just had to die.  Even if it meant drowning myself.

One friend, who was in the  cloning me camp had this to say when I shared my secret:

"Oh my God, I'm a Lesbian!  I wish I'd known that sooner, I could have been searching for Ms. Right."

I was, to say the least, taken back.

She went on to point out that for all the years she'd known me, she was looking for someone like me, the "perfect mate" because of the way I treated women I was close to.  Then it hit her.

"Oh my God, you were just running the girl play book because that's the only thing you knew.  You treated women the way YOU wanted to be treated.  It all makes sense now, how you could know so well what to say or do at a given point.  Because you ARE one of us.  Wow, how much that has to have hurt?"

Yeah, ever on the outside in the cold longing to warm myself by the heart of humanities core.  To be part of the sisterhood, included, truly understood, and no longer forced by cruel fates into a role I was ill suited to play.  Method acting in simplest form, is getting into the mind of your character and understanding what moves them.  I had no context for what was supposed to be moving my character, so I created all these rules to simulate it based on what I saw of iconic men around me.  Yeah, over the top, idealized, men that didn't and couldn't exist.  No more human than Alf.

For years I wandered around the periphery of theater, aching to be a thespian, but staying off the stage because I was spending my entire waking existence acting one role I couldn't understand, let alone play well.  Taking on another role I couldn't understand?  Somehow then balancing the character I'd have to play against the one I was playing?

Victor Victoria anyone?  Julie Andrews I have never been, though to sing like her has oft been my dream.

So that's my long winded way of saying I have utterly no idea what it means to be a man.

Truth to tell I've learned more about them since I stopped trying so hard to be one than I've ever known.  But I'm still ill prepared to speak with eloquence or any semblance of authority on the subject.  Plus given my history with them, I'd be hard pressed to not dissemble and present a less clear and honest picture of them.  It would not be as Buddha teaches us, right speech.  Christ would similar take umbrage with bearing false witness.  And to round it out fully, as my Grams would say: "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything." 

So that's kinda my long way around saying I have no idea what it means to be a man and with my experience I'm probably the last woman on earth to answer that question.

Now, so that there's no confusion, yes, I've spent the better part of my life being used and abused by men.  From my mentally ill father, to my equally unhealthy late husband, I've spent a major portion of this life, and the one immediately prior, on the wrong end of less than the best that half of our species has to represent them.  I'm working on getting past all that.  But it should be clear it has nothing to do with NOT being one of them.  Frankly had I NOT been abused, not been so carelessly and ruthlessly used I'm certain I'd have resolved my problems when I was five.  In fact it is specifically because I wasn't and could never be one of them that I suffered so long at their hands.  I wasn't one of them, and couldn't be myself, so I was stuck.  My father made that endlessly clear when at five I honestly asked when we could go to the doctor so he could fix me. That didn't go over well with him.  So I was never good enough, always unacceptable, wrong somehow he couldn't accept and I wasn't allowed to talk about.

I've been female since long before I even knew fully what the difference was.  But that never really helped much.  I could no more see into and men's world than they can ours for the most part, and compromise was unacceptable.  So I fought to hold on, to fit somehow, to play the part I was TOLD I WAS and would always be.  My Father spent the dozen years between five and when he threw me out of the house at 17 bound and determined to make a man out of me if it killed him.  Well, that worked out so well for him.  He's dead six years now, and I'm still the daughter he refused to accept when I was five.

So, "What Does it Mean To Be A Man?"  I have no idea.  My life probably might have been a whole bunch less traumatic and painful if I did know.


Saturday, October 17, 2009

What Does It Mean To Be A Woman?

Hello, My name is Samantha. I am a woman. This is part of what that means to me.

1. Being a woman is about sanity, not anatomy.
Don't get me wrong, I know, and have known many sane men in my time. Not that kind of sanity, but a longer view. About cherishing our lives, hearts, minds, souls and family in ways I've never known men to really "Grok" as the saying goes. It means seeing more connectedness the ourselves, each other, and our world than many men allow themselves to be.

2. Being a woman is a state of grace.
Not in a particular religion specific context, and not about being graceful. It's just a different place, in time and space. I suddenly think about the first entry in my list. But more, it's about a level of freedom our socio-cultural context doesn't permit men to experience.

3. Being a woman isn't about feeling, it's about what we do with them.
In general, men (singular man) regarless of culture suffer under a systemic oppression rooted in every facet of being. Social skills and connections, language, appearance, "presentation" all are rigigidly controlled to what frankly I consider an insane degree. Mistake not what I say here; Men (Man, Male half of the species, whatever) have a hard row to hoe, they feel every bit as deeply and powerfully as we do. They are as much slaves to their hormones as we are. They even, if you get to know them well enough, have cycles like we do. Men can be every bit the slaves to "British Boarding School Syndrome" as we can be.

The biggest difference there? We can (and often do) talk about it, embrace it, accept it, and integrate it into our lives. They. Do. NOT! They cannot, it's not permitted. DO NOT even think about it! Their own internal existence makes them run screaming from the concept, let alone the socio-cultural taboos ingrained into them.

4. Being a woman is about being this terrifying, mystical creature.
We terrify men. Just ask them. I did once, and the answer was so primal and simple I was floored. In all serious a man looked at me and said:

"I'm sorry, but anything that can bleed for days straight and not fall over dead, terrifies me! Women just happen to be at the top of that list. "

We speak, according to them, a language wholly our own and unique, because while they understand and can spell all the words we use, they often have no idea what we are talking about. And you know, that terrifies them too.

Many of us, after a little bit of "mattress dancing" STOP bleeding for a while, swell up like we've consumed a watermellon whole, and then after walking around like this for months, have another little human being come out of that place of blood, fear, pleasure and mystery. And getting there, well that scares men. Ask them to push a disabled car off to the side of the road, and WhooRa! They are all over it like white on rice. Have them catch a cold or get constipated and they turn into frightened little boys and complain constantly. Then they have to watch as over the course of several hours sometimes, as we push a bowling ball out of a part of us they spend some much time trying to get close to, in what is a times a comic obsession they seem to have.

5. Being a woman is about being free, and beautiful, connected, connecting, whole and part of something infinitely greater than ourselves.
Sure, we're a majority of living breathing, wonderful people who have been forced into a minority position. We're second class citizens. We DO NOT enjoy male privilege, and everything that means. We are oppressed, abused, used, misunderstood, treated like property, and almost always on the wrong end of "male privilege" and it's something we can't even relate to other than the see what men use it for.

Frankly I think we're better off for not being able to use it or relate to it other than as outsiders looking in. I've never really seen anything good come of it, and wouldn't know what to do with it if someone GAVE it to me. It's use and consequences go against fundamentally everything thing I believe and feel is important to me.

But it's freedom and connectedness I keep coming back to. It's the sisterhood I know and feel at a level so deep I'm not even sure there are words for it, and something that men don't get. It's inclusion, connection and sharing. Not about size, exclusivity and being King of all one surveys.

6. Being a woman is about living with shame, pain, and all sorts of horrific things that would kill a man outright.
No, not shades of my younger "Militant Radical Lesbian Feminist" self, just some of what I've lived through. Men cannot even begin to comprehend what I and my sisters, mothers and grandmothers and so on have lived through. Which is why regrettably our daughters will have to go through it too.

But we survive and grow more often than not. That which does not kill us makes us stronger. Which again is why we scare men to their core. (See number 4 about blood, same thing.) But it the things we feel, express, live through and move on from. "Shelter from the Same" by J.D. Danner comes to mind, and it's something men usually cannot relate to in anyway.

It's about not having to actually walk a mile in someone else's shoes to care about how they are feeling, what they are going through, and instinctively need to help in someway, even if it's just a hug, caring heart, and a willingness to listen and share.

7. Being a woman is about being, not becoming.
It's about a presence in our own lives, and the lives of those around us, our children, our families, that men to the best of my knowledge don't get to experience. Yes, we grow into ourselves, but we are not exploding forward into a harsh world that needs to be conquered and controlled. It's finding ourselves walking along where we are, not where we are going to.

Being a woman is every bit the difference between is and will be. Being a woman means being able to talk about body parts and functions without giggling like a child. Being a woman is about way more than breasts, a vagina, and makin' babies. It's about love and so much more.

It's about freedom and beauty. It's about something my Mother shared with me a lifetime ago it seems: "We live through the bad times my dear because it helps us really appreciate the good times." Being a woman is about contrast, strength and all the wonder of the universe.

That's just a small part of what being a woman means to me.

My deep thanks to Liz, Lori, Véronique and Flartus for bringing this idea for a blog post to my head and heart, for always managing to touch my soul with some beauty. As this blog chain grows, I'll add updates to other perspectives. If you want to add a link to your own entry addressing this topic, please feel welcome to by clicking below:

I'm about to do something contraversial . . .

. . .and generally out of character for me, and my blog. I like to embrace balance, harmony, peace and quiet reflection. I endeavor when possible to be as much a living, breathing, Zen Koan as one woman can be.

So it is not lightly that I choose to make the following statement and in essence stir up a mess 'o somethin' here.

"Sauce/Gravy/whatever you call" it that goes into pretty much anything Italian red in color is NOT supposed to be SWEET like Candy.

Hold it, hold it, HOLD IT!!! Settle down please!!!

Okay, now that I have your attention.

I know, there are those who claim it needs sugar - (WTH! SUGAR?) - as it's primary ingredient or it's not authentic, well I'm sorry but I don't agree. The primary ingredient is supposed to be tomato, and in a good Italian Sauce one never adds sugar. Like ever, not a dash, not a pinch, not even a light wave over the pot. It's the combination of long duration, low temperature, cooking of the right ingredients, that brings out the natural sweetness of what goes into the mix, it's even one's choice of tomatoes, types of onions, garlic, basil . . .

. . . there's an endless list of ingredients that make or break a good slow cook sauce. Closest one should get to sugar in a good sauce is whatever sugar there is in the wine ones cooks with if one is making that type of sauce.

But. Never. Sugar.

Not in the mood to make something from scratch? That's fine, I understand, just read your labels. If the word sugar is even on the label, think twice about using it. If it's in the top five ingredients, think of taking it to a toxic waste Superfund site for proper disposal.

If HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP shows at any level of ingredients, immediately seal it in plastic, scrub down, and turn it over to your local Hazardous Waste Specialists. Every county has a HAZMAT team these days.

A good sauce can be as simple as tomatoes, garlic, onion, olive oil and time to let it all "cook down" to the desired consistency. Even the simplest of sauces my Mom used to make (when she didn't "doctor up" something else) took at least a day to make right if from scratch. Now don't be frightened by this, done right it doesn't mean slaving away all day over a stove. It means getting it started in the morning, and then letting it cook over the course of the day, stirring occasionally while it slow cooked over low temps all day long.

You can get fancy, and creative, worrying the right notes of what type of Tomato(s) to use, types of garlic, onion, basil . . .

. . . pretty much every ingredient that goes into a good sauce has a "note," it's own unique characteristics that it brings to the sauce over time. Want "sweeter" less tangy sauce? Use plumb tomatoes, roasted garlic and vidalia onions. When I say roasted garlic I mean soak it in EVOO, wrap it in tin foil, and bake it until it turns all liquid inside. The garlic will come out of the clove in a gush of liquid garlic yumminess simply by squeezing it. Not a fan of vidalia onions? Take a sweet yellow onion, dice it up, and lightly caramelize it in some EVOO before you add it to the pot. Instant magic.

There are so many different ways, I could talk about adding "sweet" notes to a sauce, for months. I'm not even kidding.

Want something fast, healthy and out of a jar? Make sure sugar doesn't appear on the label, and feel free to experiment. I'm a fan of Classico as a good base myself. I often flavor my garlic with Classico and oh my do they have an amazing variety of sauces to play with as a starting point.

Not one of them has sugar in the ingredients list.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Sunday, Sunday, so good to me . . .

. . .yes, I know, the Mommas and the Pappas sang about Monday, but this made me laugh, plus Sunday didn't leave me crying.

Sunday was "amazing" in that I did something I'd not done in years, and wasn't certain I'd ever be able to do again. Most significant in it's amazingness, was that it was so normal.

Yes, doesn't much figure does it that an amazing day could be normal.

Vicky Jo thinks all my days should be amazing, and frankly I agree. I just have to get there. But have a day be amazing because it's normal? Wait, What?!

Sunday started with a rather interesting dream that took me by surprise. I was having a celebratory breakfast with Danny Glover and his wife. It was the end of a longish road to recovery for him, In ways, the luxury of going out to a nice normal breakfast for him was amazing. You see in his dream, he'd had a stroke of some sort, and I'd sat with him, treating him with Reiki, Hypnotherapy, and Counseling to help him heal and grow past the event. It had taken time, and despite his initial belief that his life was over, he made an amazing recovery.

So at breakfast he was lavishing the praise on me for being a miracle worker and doing something the doctors said would never happen. To his view, I'd given him his life back. I smiled and said that he'd taken his life back, I just helped him see the light, walk the path, and invest in his own future. Me of course I was enjoying spending time with Danny Glover beacuse well he's just a nice down to earth guy who knows how to have fun. I'll admit it, I'm a fan of his. So we were having this mutual admiration thing going on over breakfast. His wife jokingly suggested we just get a room.

Anyway, waking up after that dream wasn't such a bad thing. I'd done good, and helped someone find their way back to the land of the living. Good way to start a day.

Many years ago, before my life had ended, or at least life as I knew it, I'd started a hobby/sport? Geocaching is a modern day "treasure hunt" that uses GPS receivers to find "caches" of stored trinkets. The GPSR will get you so close, and then you've got to find the cache from there. What I love most about it is the sense of accomplishment, and that it gets me out of the hose and to places I'd never otherwise go. Some of the best hours I had in terms of "stress management" was spending a couple of hours hunting for caches. I've found myself in lovely parks, going on walks that were refreshing and beautiful. With everything else, I'd lost this part of my life a while back.

Recently I had to upgrade my phone, the phone I had was three years old, and in part, I had Apple iPhone envy, so just any phone wasn't going to work. There was also the limitation that for several years now my internet connection has been through my phone, so just any phone wouldn't do. There's also the matter that my current phone was only 2g, and 3 was out, with 4g coming the beginning of the year. I needed to upgrade. I'm also not as, shall we say, financially well off as I once was, and could not afford to switch to AT&T. Lastly, T-Mobile had recently recognized my loyalty as a customer buy giving me the unlimited calling plan for half off what everyone else pays for it. I didn't want to lose that. So, it had to be a data capable phone that was just like the iPhone Plus, this phone is a yummy Merlot color instead of black with silver trim. So yes, it appealed to my aesthetic tastes too.

Thankfully, T-Mobile had something that fit the bill. So for just the upgrade price of the headset, and keeping my monthly billing where it was, I managed to get all the yummy, touch screen, applicious goodness without the huge expense in terms of money. Over simply put, anything the iPhone can do, my new phone can do too!

"Yes Samantha, there's an app for that."

One of those apps let's me turn my phone into a high end GPSR. And once again I'm caching again! Well, that's assuming I can get out of the house, deal with people, and being outside, and noise, and, and, and . . . yeah, it really is like that sometimes. One of the caches I went hunting for was the Ohio River Floodplain in Indiana. So Sunday, yes dear reader we are back to Sunday once again, I decided I was going to go caching again. I'd already managed some on Saturday, and wasn't freaking out or anything, so I thought I'd give it a try again. I saved the Ohio River Floodplain for last. Figuring that because of the nature of the cache, I'd have least managed to get two before this one if this was more than I was up for. So, I hit the first two and got them out of the way fairly quickly. Well except for driving in circles on the "Gold" level of a parking structure trying to get to the "Purple" one. I hit the first two, then went and had a bite to eat, in the restaurant, and then was on my way to the last cache of the day, and what promised to be a nice sunset over looking the Ohio River. How bad could THAT be?

Well as it turned out, not bad at all. Very not bad! Was actually really good. Sunshine, fresh autumn air, the leaves starting to change, and what was all in all a two mile walk. You can get a general idea from the little map to the left that shows the start point and end point of one leg of the trip. I started at the green marker, walked up to the last yellow marker, and then back again.

Aside from collecting the data (this was a special kind of cache, and earth cache) I was enjoying the view, the fresh air, sunshine, and learning more about the town of Lawrenceberg, Indiana. Like the massive repeated destruction it suffered from a number of horrible floods over the years. The entire reason the levee was built in the first pace. In 1937 for example, the entire town was under more than fifty feet of water. It was one of a number of times over the years this happened.

There was also the small matter of the sight seeing. Of course there was the lovely sunset (top of post) that I just stood there enjoying while breathing the crisp fall air. It was dark by the time I could pry myself away, thankfully the whole area was well lit board walk style.

I'd made it through the entire day without the background noise of my past that pervades my head and heart. One very brief, but thankfully minor flashback that I managed to push away and get back to enjoying the moment I was in. I was focused on being entirely present, in that moment on top of the levee, making new memories of a time beyond the pain and destruction of my past. I was living the Zen Koan:

"Put no distance between you, and where you are."

And that's exactly what I'd spent the day doing. Meditation without sitting still and not thinking, instead, mindfulness, being in that moment, that place and time I might never have been to were it not for geocaching. I took a nice leisurely drive towards home, stopping to do some grocery shopping and thinking about nothing more pressing than what I was going to make for dinner. It was a normal, relaxed, fall Sunday, the likes of which I'd not had in more than a decade. And that to me was AMAZING!

Saturday, October 03, 2009

The taste of green . . .

. . .yes, green has, after a fashion, a taste. Well at least in this case it does. Until very recently I have not been drinking enough water. I don't drink endless bottles of water that you can buy a case at a time at the grocery store or walmart, but DO filter my own at home. For the longest time I'd been reusing some of those prepackaged bottles, refilling them over and over again. This still felt like a compromise, especially given concerns about all the toxic chemicals leaching from the plastic. Then it was some of the healthier chemical free bottles you buy and refill, but there is still something of a flavor to it. That plastic taste, kept me from really drinking my share, plus to be honest, I was having trouble with the odd pull top they had, keeping it clean was a challenge.

So I've had this ongoing dream of finding a decent, inexpensive, refillable, easy to keep clean water bottle. My dream ultimately was for one of the simple screw top, stainless steel water bottles. At around 20 dollars a bottle, it was going to remain a dream for quite sometime. Until one late night and a bit of wandering through the local Kroger that is trying to compete with Whole Foods. I happen to float down the seasonal/bbq isle. It had an endless variety of plastic water bottles, in fact a few months earlier I'd picked up a couple of BPA free plastic bottles there. Mind you they also had a few different kinds of Stainless bottles there, but again, priced higher than I wanted to spend. That night however was special, amazing, a gift from above even. Why? Because my dream bottles were marked down to under five bucks each. 75% off? Oh yeah! I bought six of them. When I mentioned the luck I'd had to my sister-in-law Ellie, she asked me if I could get her some. So I went back the next day and got the last four they had. Score!

So price not withstanding, one thing I'd not expected was to once again enjoy drinking plain old water. Nothing in it. No flavors, chemicals, additives, nothing. Just pure, clean, filtered water. The taste is what struck me. It has the thirst quenching bit of yum that keeps me coming back for more, bottle after bottle. What does is taste like?

Clean. It tastes clean, bright, like a mountain stream in the spring melt.

I like that taste, even love it.

So I've been drinking water like a crazy woman.

And I've been enjoying it!