Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Sisters Should Do It For Each Other, Too

When I was in high school we had a debate in History class.  I forget the specific topic now, but it had to do with race.  I was debating an African American classmate who said that my ancestors had oppressed hers.

Furious, I countered that in fact while her ancestors were being enslaved in America, my ancestors were in Ireland being oppressed by the British, and how dare she make such an accusation.  I thought I'd really made my point.

Technically I was correct: my maternal grandparents arrived in America in the 1930s, my father in 1960. I don't know of any earlier ancestors of mine being here at all.  But that wasn't the point. 

I was wrong. 

I didn't see it then.  I only looked at the literal argument and not the larger context.  In my offense at the suggestion that I and/or my ancestors had benefited from being white, I had dismissed the point my classmate was trying to make about the generations of difference between our experiences as Americans. 

I don't know if that classmate remembers that exchange, but I think about it a lot.  It's embarrassing to me that I said something so short-sighted and defensive.

Fast forward to today.  After last weekend's marches all over the world, the takes have been coming hot and fast:  first we celebrated the unity, the activism, the peaceful protest.  Then other voices piped up:  those who pointed out that police don't react to protests the same way, that women of color and trans women felt excluded. 

And a lot of us didn't like hearing that.  Feminism, controversial in general for reasons I will never understand, has its own internal controversies as white women forget to include others in our movements when we should be working together.

But we need to confront that:  will we be at the next BLM march?  Can we own that white women voted over 50% for Donald Trump? Will we listen when trans women, women of color, disabled women speak about the issues they face? 

Unless we can say an enthusiastic "YES!" we're burying our heads in the sand just like I did in high school. 

If we really want a movement that makes change, we can't just expect that everyone will come together and sing with joined hands while we state the terms.  We need to listen.  We need to show up for them the way we expect them to show up for us.  We need to confront our own biases and learn from our mistakes. 

I don't believe in letting the perfect be the enemy of the good.  And I think the Women's March was a good thing – the sight of women coming together all over the world was incredible and inspiring and I spent all day wishing I was there instead of at work and thinking about what I can do to be a part of the change I want to see in the world.  It wasn't perfect – but what that means is we have the chance to be better.  We can listen, and we can learn.  And we can be better. 

Because if we want to be taken seriously as voices for progress and change, we need to stop being held back by our own fragility and privilege.  We need to face the hard truths and stop shutting down criticism because it ruins our good feelings.  And honestly, if we want to really get anywhere, we need to listen to the people who have been struggling against systemic problems for generations already.  They probably know what they're talking about.  

Post title bastardized horribly from the Eurythmics and Aretha Franklin.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

An Immodest Proposal

This is going to come as a surprise to a lot of you.  It will seem like a total betrayal of my views, but I've had some time to reflect and I just can't ignore the simple moral equation at work here any longer: 

I firmly believe that we should stop providing funding for insurance or research of erectile dysfunction aids in all forms. 

I know, I know, that seems drastic.  But as you know I'm a person of great faith and I just can't square my conscience with this subversion of nature!  God created man and women to work exactly as we do – and if God decided that your penis shouldn't work anymore, than who are you to defy the will of God?  This nation is on a downward spiral right into Hell and we can't keep putting our own will above that of the Almighty.  Perhaps you think it's your right as a man to procreate, but I say this to you:  God has made another choice. 

It is the height of selfishness to expect me to allow my tax dollars to pay into any insurance program or research of a product that so strongly goes against my values.  In this melting pot of a nation I should never have to be accepting of anything that is not personally within my own standards. 

And speaking of selfishness, erectile dysfunction largely affects... let's say men of a certain age.  Don't you think you should be more responsible?  How can you be so short-sighted as to possibly father a child you may not be able to provide for until adulthood?  Is society supposed to bear that burden for you just because you want to retire before the age of 80? 

What's that you say?  You think you have a right to have sex without the sole focus being the conception of a child?  Absurd.  This is exactly the kind of morally devoid thinking that is sending this nation straight to Hell!  Perhaps you should keep an aspirin between your knees and give some thought to your choices instead of running around corrupting everyone's daughters with your filth.  You're probably some reckless gigolo; do you expect us to approve of that type of behavior?  To make it easier on you?  How dare you.

This is the problem with allowing men to run wild: you get these ideas about what you want being  acceptable instead of just following the norms of a polite society.  Who are you expecting to have all this sex with, anyway?  It's not as though women are going to risk bearing your children when you're so immature and entitled.  Clearly all these dangerous erection drugs are altering your ability for reason. 

And do we really need men getting any more emotional, anyway?  Who can keep up with the mood swings?  Your silly sports team makes a mistake and you're shouting and carrying on, and the next minute you're laughing again!  Can you really be expected to handle your disgusting "sexuality" responsibly when you can't even control your emotions? 

Now I know what you're thinking.  You think this is all terribly unfair and I just don't understand.  Please calm down.  You're just not thinking clearly, as usual.  You're getting all hysterical again.  If you can just be rational you'll understand that these drugs are dangerous for you and for society as a whole. 

Sorry, men.  But we simply cannot allow you to pollute our society any longer.  And this is without even mentioning the deeply unfair concept of asking half the nation's population to fund a product we will never need!  I think it's best that you should have to raise the exorbitant price for these drugs yourself, which will force you to think about the consequences of their use rather than just having free erections all willy nilly.  And if you can't afford them, then it's for the best as you couldn't afford a child anyway, and as I said before, that's the only good reason to have sex, ever. 


If any part of this offended you, yay!  That was the point.  Now please consider that these are all things women are told constantly about why we shouldn't have access to birth control.  Even women who need it to treat health issues, even women for whom pregnancy would be a health risk, even even even.  And that shouldn't matter anyway.  You want the abortion rate down?  Birth control.  You want welfare costs down?  Birth control.  Or we could keep slut-shaming women in a society that teaches men they are literally entitled to sex though for god's sake I can't figure out with whom since women aren't supposed to have sex ever unless it's for babies. 

Just know what you're buying into when you put your two cents into that jar. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Good Intent

There's about 150 think pieces right now about whether wearing a safety pin is a great show of solidarity or an empty gesture of the privileged.  This is not one of those, although the safety pin movement did set the train of thought out of the station.   And look, wear a safety pin or don't; I'm not here to judge you either way.  We all have to do what we think is right and helpful. 

That said, the safety pin movement made me realize how much we love our symbols.  The yellow ribbon magnet on the car.  The safety pin.  The temporary Facebook profile pic overlayed with the flag of whichever nation (of white people) had a recent calamity.  Whether we do anything concrete or not, we feel the need to advertise our good intent. 

And mostly that's fine, except when it gives us the little feel-good charge of having helped without actually helping.  Then it's the activist equivalent of taking off our shoes at the airport – nice theater, but pointless in practice. 

I'm as guilty of this as anyone else.  I retweet voraciously, I Facebook fervently.  But my concrete actions are fewer:  I donate to an animal shelter and a local NPR station every month and volunteer at the same shelter.  And... right now, that's about it. 

So I'm not willing to pin on a safety pin and pretend I've done something.  The country – and possibly the world – became less safe in a very real way for a lot of people last week.  (And by the way, if you deny that or think protesters are just "whining," you'll probably be happier unfollowing me now because I'm not shutting up any time soon.) 

Like I said, I'm not here to throw stones at anybody from my glass house.  I'm just saying that it's easy for us to get caught up in our symbols and forget that without action behind them they mean very little.  That's something I forgot.  And I was raised by activists, so I have no excuse for my complacency save the fact that my life has been mostly comfortable and easy. 

I'm still trying to figure out where I'm going to focus all the animus in me.  But I know that my complacency has to end, because I have friends and loved ones that need more than symbols right now. 

Post title courtesy of Kimbra.

Monday, November 14, 2016

The American Jesus

 “I like your Christ; I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

That quote is attributed to Mahatma Gandhi, though my research seems to dispute its veracity somewhat.   But whether he said it or not, it's a truth. 

American Christians, we need to talk. 

The conservative politicians in this country claim to be our last bastions of Christian morality against the Godless liberals who want to have orgies in the streets with ISIS.  Let's examine that, shall we?  Because I was raised by some pretty old school Catholic parents and I was never taught the things you hear from these "moral leaders." 

Let's start with the guns.  We Americans sure love our Second Amendment.  "A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." 

Leaving aside the fact that a "well-regulated" militia has no bearing on whether every private citizen has the unconditional right to a personal arsenal, it's always been weird to me that the American right bangs this drum so hard while professing America to be "a Christian nation." 

Really?  You think Jesus would be into your guns?  "Thou shall not kill," remember that? 

While we're on the topic of killing, let's talk about abortion.  Because the same people who will vehemently defend every person's right to own a device designed solely to kill things will tell you that abortion should be absolutely outlawed in every circumstance because it is murder, and a moral evil. 

And to a Christian that's true.  But I have some trouble reconciling that outlook with the worship of guns, and the promotion of the death penalty ("Thou shall not kill!"), and the bloodthirsty zeal with which we espouse war. 

That's not pro-life.  That's pro-birth.  To be pro-life is to be concerned with life at all of its stages, which means letting go of your bloodthirsty worship of death.  But boy, we love our death. 

Oh hey, that brings me to something else.  These American "Christians" want to tell you that we should get rid of "entitlements" like welfare and education assistance and affordable housing initiatives and healthcare.  Pro-life, remember that.  Pro-life until you're born, and then you're on your own, you lazy whiner. 

Let's see what the Bible says about that.

"In truth I tell you, in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me."

Doesn't sound like Jesus is super into our American "I got mine, screw you" philosophy.  Remember the Corporal Works of Mercy, Catholic kids?  Feed the hungry,  give drink to the thirsty, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, visit the prisoners, bury the dead, give alms to the poor.  Not a mention of bootstraps to be found. 

Meanwhile when the President works to give healthcare to people who need it, he's fought tooth and nail by the "moral" right.  The very idea of raising the minimum wage or making education more affordable is seen as pandering to the lazy and undeserving, even in an economy where quality jobs and education are ever harder to obtain.  Refugees fleeing horrific conditions are excoriated as a threat we should reject out of hand.  We're a "Christian nation" (by the way, no we're not) who looks at helping people as repugnant.  We look down on our fellow man.  We think those who are poor, or in danger, or disenfranchised deserve their fate. 

It's been a long time since my Saturday morning CCD classes and I'm not the Catholic my parents would have liked me to be, but I'm still pretty sure none of that has a damn thing to do with a single teaching of Christianity.  In fact it flies right in the face of the Jesus we claim to adore so reverently. 

America, if we really want to be a nation of selfish, cruel, death and money -worshipping, scared children then I guess that's our choice.  But it's time we leave Jesus out of it and admit that we actually don't like him that much.  (He was a socialist Jew, after all.)  Because we are not the people he teaches us to be, which gives us no right to invoke his name. 

Title courtesy of Bad Religion.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Tough Love

Marvel, we need to talk. 

You know I love you.  I've watched The Avengers about 400 times (three times in theaters, approx 398 between DVD and Netflix), I've pleaded with you to give my favorite character some love, and so on.  I've even tried to deal with the fact that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is kind of disappointing (though there's a related issue there that we'll get back to in a minute).  And I couldn't possibly be more excited for Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier.  Which is why we need to talk about this poster: 


This thing is a hot mess.  But we're not even going to talk about the orange and blue-ness, or the fact that an aircraft is careening straight for Robert Redford, or the general ADD-chihuahua-on-meth business of it all.  We have bigger fish to fry.  Two pretty big fish, in fact. 

Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Island

A terrible thing happened today. 

It didn't happen to me, but it's touched a lot of people I know.  Someone much beloved by many of my friends is gone and he left in a terrible, difficult to understand way. 

I'm not going to tell you about my feelings because this isn't my tragedy.  I never met Justin.  We spoke once or twice in the RDA chat, but that's about it.  I'm not going to claim ownership of this pain though I sympathize with that of his friends and family. 

Instead, I'm going to talk about pain.  The kind of pain that exists inside you like some terrible island on which you're marooned alone with someone who hates you and knows all your soft targets. 

Maybe you don't know that place.  Maybe you can't even imagine what kind of pain could make somebody want to take their life.  I hope you don't. 

I've written about depression a lot here.  I've written about my personal battle with it, which is one I still fight every day.  And the circumstances of my life of late – which I won't go into here – have left me in that place more than once lately.  That horrible, "please don't let me wake up tomorrow, they'd be so much better off without me, I can't take it anymore" place. 

What gets me out of that place?  Different things.  Sometimes a friend helps me, sometimes my family.  Sometimes I just ride it out and hate myself for it. But part of me is always stuck on that island.  Even on good days, the Smoke Monster* is lurking somewhere in that jungle waiting to reflect all my greatest failures back at me until I crack. 

If you don't know that place, it's hard to even fathom it.  Even if you do – if you live there yourself – it doesn't fully make sense.  I know why I should be gone, but anyone else?  It's insane.  

And it is.  It's insane.  But it's also real. 

Some of you do know that place.  Some of you are there right now.  And to you, I beg:  don't suffer alone.  Don't let that monster inside you who hates you be the only voice with whom you converse.  Talk to someone.  Reach out to a friend, or to family, or to a hotline.  Because however hopeless it seems and however alone you feel, somebody in this world loves you.  Somebody wants you here.  Somebody will be devastated to lose you. 

Don't get caught up in trying to get off the island for good.  If you're like me, you'll wind up back there many times in your life.  But what I've learned is that getting back there isn't failure – you just have to know that it isn't forever. 

A lot of days right now my situation seems too much to bear.  A lot of days I wake up only able to look forward to going back to sleep.  I know how it feels to look down the tunnel and see no light.  But I also know that my brain hates me and I can't always trust it.  I know I have to ask other people for help sometimes.  I know that if I can find it in me to fight it can get better. 

If any good is to come from this, it's in the people who loved Justin (whether as a friend or as a personality) learning from the loss of him. 

Don't suffer alone.  Don't hide.  Don't let it win.

*Sorry.  Once the island metaphor happened, a LOST reference became inevitable.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Catherine the Great

Catherine Deenihan, 1941-2013.
My mother passed on Saturday, on what my sister Nancy says were her own terms: privately, with her loved ones nearby.  She left to the sound of her grandchildren laughing outside, one of her favorite sounds in this world.

After a hard-fought year of unsuccessful treatments for the leukemia in her bones, and even after ceasing treatment and handing her life over to God, she still found the strength (and perhaps the stubbornness) to do it her way. 

That was my mom.  She was both fiercely independent ("Don't 'should' on me!" was one of her mantras) and made of grace.  And she died the way she lived – with quiet resolve.

Mom (Kitchie to close friends and family, otherwise Catherine – never Cathy) was born in Islip, NY in May of 1941, the youngest of her parents' four children.  Being the youngest child of a widowed mother who worked as a nurse taught her the value of service and hard work, and as an adult she became a social worker.  (Independent even then, she rebutted my father's proposals of marriage until she could finish her degree at Misericordia University.)  She worked in family services for years before spending most of my life working as a substance abuse counselor, first in county clinics and then in the county jail.

She had a special combination of hard and soft that made her able to do her job – my mom was one of the toughest people I have ever known, and I can barely recall her ever fearing much of anything.  But she also possessed a heart filled with compassion and kindness and a faith that could fill a church on its own.

When Mom first got sick, I was beside myself with anger.  It's so unfair, I said to her.  You've barely had time to deal with losing Dad.  Couldn't God give you a break?  I'll never forget her reply: she told me not to be upset, that she was grateful for her many blessings.

"I only ever asked for the strength to take care of your father," she said.  She told me that she had gotten that, and trips to Maine and Ireland after his death, and that she was going to be getting excellent care.

That was my mom too.  No matter how bad things got, she was always grateful for what she had.  And she always had faith that things happened for a reason, and that God would keep her on the right path.  "God provides," she'd always tell me.

Mom taught me so much that I still carry with me, and so much more that I try to emulate with middling success.  She raised my sisters and I to be ladylike but strong, to be compassionate and always consider the feelings of others, to be self-sufficient but charitable.  She taught etiquette and decorum with such effect that to this day I cringe to see what most of my friends consider old-fashioned norms eschewed.  (I'm the ninny who insists on covering my shoulders at a church wedding no matter how liberal the parish, because if I don't my mother will know.) If my mother knew you, she knew your birthday, anniversary, and any other pertinent occasions, and would make every possible effort to properly commemorate them and make sure you felt special. 

And she was fun.  She had a quick and often wicked sense of humor.  She loved to laugh – and no one could make her laugh like her grandchildren, who she prized above any possible treasure this world could offer.
Mom with her four favorite people:
Holly, Patrick, Keira, and Dan.

It's funny the little details you remember of a person.  I remember riding in the car with my mom years ago – I've long since forgotten where we were going, but I remember her singing along to the Big Bopper's "Chantilly Lace" on the oldies station.  I remember how much fun she had imitating the Bopper's deep voice.  And a ponytail, hanging doowwwnn...

The past year was a trial for her.  But what's struck me more than anything is how calm, how strong, how grateful she remained all along.  She didn't give up and she didn't linger in despair.  Instead she gave thanks and clung to her faith for strength.  She took comfort in her family and friends, and fought every second to live with dignity and grace to her last breath.  And she left on her own terms, at peace with her life and with her death.

Watching her has made me want to follow her example.  I try.  I don't know if anyone can ever truly fill my mother's mold, but the best way I can think of to honor her is to try.  And to always be thankful for the many blessings life has given to me.