PlazaJen: The Blog

Riding the Bike with One Pedal.

X-Ray Vision

When I was a kid, I thought the idea of X-ray glasses was SO COOL. Imagine, being able to see through  anything you wanted! Clothes, wrapping paper, notebook covers, locker doors, the list was endless. Now, of course, I think something like that would be more of a burden than a blessing; imagine if you could see someone’s soul, their fears, their desires, their hatred, before you even spoke a word.

I had my annual mammogram today, pleased that they were open on a Saturday, bright and early. In the hallway, I was delighted and surprised to see the woman who gave me my first mammogram there, 8 years ago. She wasn’t my technician today, but we greeted each other, and while I waited for my results, she stopped by the small chamber to ask me how things were going.

I said, “I’m anxious. It’s been stressful. This election season has been like none other.” And we did that careful dance of words, establishing that we were both on the same side, so we could speak more freely.

See, she’s getting ready to retire. She’s been doing this for about 40 years. That’s what first drew me into conversation with her – what she had to have seen over her career, the advancements in technology alone would be mind-blowing, and knowing that in this gig, you’re going to also have your share of heartache to go with the joy of seeing  some survivors return – and others not survive.  She’s thinking that after she retires, she’s going to try and find a job as a caretaker for people with early on-set dementia, because she watched her son’s MIL decline, and the care out there being expensive and hard to find. She is one of those people that shows you her soul quickly, and it’s the soul of a kind, caring, wonderful human being.

She also told me that in the past year, more women have asked to not have her perform their screenings. Oh, yeah, now is when I’m going to also tell you something else about her, something that shouldn’t have any bearing:  she’s black. And apparently, in these crazy times, people now feel even more comfortable saying to her face, “You can’t know what you’re doing, I want someone else.” Tears of anger and compassion flooded my eyes as I conveyed my horror and shock.  We spoke of how hatred and racism surely have to have been there all along, but marveled at how emboldened it’s become, and how acceptable it now seems to be to show it, speak it,  act on it. She closed her eyes, shaking her head and said, “You know what, all I can do is live my life. I’m a flawed black woman and I will stand before Jesus and be judged, just like they will, and they’ll have to answer for their sins, just like I will.” All I could do was murmur something at that point because I couldn’t scream the invectives and curse words and denials, that they needed their comeuppance on this earth, that they need to be shamed and excoriated for their flawed choices under the banner of hatred.  That they need to learn and be different. That they should have let this kind, capable, experienced woman perform their exam.

I hugged her, because she may not be there next year when I return, because her retirement is on the horizon, and she’ll be somewhere else, giving of her time and wisdom to someone who needs it, giving peace and comfort to that person’s family.

I see what we have become as a nation, and I don’t like it. Hatred may have always been there, but clearly the shame attached to it has been lost. And I’ve picked it up, because I am ashamed on behalf of those women who could be so racist and callous to someone so undeserving. I shoulder the burden of bad choices by others, because when I know a wrong has been done, I feel compelled to try and right it, somehow.

Still, I’m grateful I don’t have x-ray vision, to be able to see so clearly those around me, their basest fears under their sleeves. It’s enough to speak up when you see it and hear it.  Maybe find common ground or understand what the fear is that’s fueling the hatred.  I’m looking at my own fears, and it seems like talking to our elders is a good way to go: every person I’ve talked to this past week who is over the age of 60, has a calmer view on where the election could take us: no matter what happens, we’ll still be here. We’ll get through it. We’ll do what we need to do. We got through the last (X), we’ll get through this.  And in the end, we must only answer for ourselves.

Choose wisely, my friends.

For The Record….

I originally posted this on Facebook, and made it public, because I am so tired of how women are so casually objectified, treated, assaulted and demeaned. I wanted as many people to give pause and really hear my words, to reflect on what they believe, and how we can collectively take action to stop not only the runaway election train, but also just the everyday shit, the daily life, and that IT’S OK to demand to be treated better. As of this morning, that post has been shared 40 times, which pleases me mightily, because it means it’s resonated with other like-minded people, who are tired of the tilt and want to see the scales balanced. Since I own this domain, I wanted to place it here for posterity.

Every generation has its battle. I am not a historian by any stretch of the imagination, but I look back at the women who paved so many roads before me. The ones who were imprisoned over their fight for the right to vote. The women who fought for equality, who have fought for equal pay (still not there), fought for freedom over their own goddamned bodies (still not there), fought for freedom to not be raped because of what they wore, what they drank, where they were (still not there). Fought for the right to raise their voices to be heard (still not there), fought to be respected in the workplace and the opportunity to rise to the top (still fighting for share).


And I look at my own life. The shock of being grabbed and groped in high school – in between classes! The shock of my high school chemistry teacher and english teacher making comments about the size of my breasts.. The shock of my government teacher bragging about his college sexual conquests, right there in class. The shock of saying no and still being raped. The shock of being told to be quiet, to dress a certain way, to be admonished for speaking up. The astonishment of a male coworker leaning in as if he could just kiss me because he thought he was entitled to and I was just…there to receive it.

After all these years of this, I’m out of tolerance. I’m simply bankrupt of patience. So when I hear a rich and famous and powerful man say he can grab women by their pussies, that he just can’t stop himself from kissing them if they’re pretty, I want to set the world on fire with my mind, out of hope in reducing the landscape to ashes, that from the smoke, the phoenix of equality and respect could somehow rise. Because, sure, I’m not at-risk for a Trump assault, after all, I’m a fat pig by his standards. But I am not unworthy of respect or decency. I am not reduced to an object to be possessed, or labeled in two-dimensional slurs. I am an intelligent human being who is contributing to society and worthy of respect and decency. And the fact that my generation is STILL FUCKING FIGHTING FOR THIS is what makes me insane with anger. I have plenty of self-respect, and it doesn’t make me a crazy bitch to expect it from the world around me. I’m not here to decorate your world, I’m here to contribute, I’m here to speak up when others feel afraid, and by god, I am going to vote and do whatever else it takes to not lose more ground for all women in this country.

I’m not here
To decorate your world.
If you don’t think I’m pretty?
I don’t care.
You may sneer at my size
The space I consume,
And to that I say kindly,
Go fuck yourself.
The beautiful thing about getting older
Is no longer caring
What a stranger thinks.
It’s hearing crazy responses
And instead of taking them inward,
As a fault of my own,
I think, instead,
“What’s your damage?”
Your words fall into the chasm
Between where you want them to land
And where I actually stand.
I just don’t care
Because I know myself.
I finally do.
I’m here to tell you
It is beautiful to be
Exactly
Precisely
Unabashedly
Me.

Unicorn Blood

OK, so Charlie Sheen can yap on and on about his precious “Tiger Blood”, but truly, I have what I’ve dubbed “Unicorn Blood” – because my blood type is AB-, the most rare blood type out there. (Less than 1% of the population has it.) I want to talk about how this news has changed my life, but I also want to back up a second, because it feels kind of crazy (and ironic) that I’ve become the biggest proselytizer for blood donations, given my deep-seated childhood fear of needles!

Yep, I was terrified of needles. Probably had something to do with the fact I was always in and out of the ER for many winters in my youth, with alarming fevers from strep throat. And to say they were alarming is pretty severe, given that I was raised by a couple of people who would pretty much tell you to go “Walk it off!” if you had any pain below, say, “Severed Limb” status. I had to google what in hell kind of shot I must have gotten (penicillin), but whatever it was, I was already in Rotten Bad Place before we got there, and getting a shot was just short of being beheaded, in my book. (I got my tonsils out in 3rd grade, which curbed a lot of the spiking fevers after that.) Flash-forward to the time I was riding a horse in the dark, and made it go through too narrow of a gate, resulting in a six-inch gash on my inner knee (because the horse lunged forward, and my inner knee caught on an extending piece of metal. The horse knew it wasn’t going to work, but finally did what my heels and voice told it to do!). I remember barely feeling anything, because I went into shock, but was ROYALLY PISSED that I’d ripped my new pants. I rode the horse back around the house and started shrieking for my dad, who took one look and yelled at me to DISMOUNT while simultaneously lifting me off the horse. We went inside, he took a second look and almost passed out, and fortunately, the female half of the couple we’d been visiting was a nurse, who gave me a washcloth and we applied pressure while calls to the ER were made and much hullabalooing about took place. I distinctly remember trying to convince everyone it probably wouldn’t require stitches, RIGHT? we could just use some of those butterfly bandages. Because anything if it meant avoiding needles! (I ended up needing 36 stitches – 18 internally – and had narrowly missed a major artery.) (My mother made me show her while my dad stomped off to find the ER doc and when the nurse hustled in, she immediately made my mom sit down & put her head between her knees BEFORE even addressing me.)

So because life involves immunizations and shit, my dad worked with me on my fear, and told me before I had my tonsils out to just make a fist and dig my nails into the palm of my hand as hard as I could, and the pain I created myself would be more than the pain from any needle. To be honest, I still do this, not to the point of extreme like I used to, but have always found it to be a good distraction. And now, it makes me think of dad, which has a bittersweetness I will always take.

Last fall, as we all scrambled to get ourselves to “Silver Status” in a three-month span to lower our health care costs, one of the events was a blood drive here at the agency. I signed up! I could use the points, and I’d never given blood before. I even got competitive about it (disguise your shock, please), and was able to make my donation in about 7 minutes, beating our boss. And then I waited for my card, which never showed up – until I got an email, asking for another donation and that if I donated, I could get candy sent to me (or someone else). But in that email it had my blood type! Finally! I knew what it was! So I jumped on the Googles and researched it and discovered that AB- platelets are one of the highest in-demand donations, because they are given primarily to cancer patients. I needed to do this.

The first attempt was merely that – I don’t have trucker veins, you can’t drive a semi down them and even have a wide-load swing wildly. My veins are a little mushy and princessy and require a little extra effort if we’re gonna use the apheresis machine. So the first try failed, because my return wasn’t staying contained in my vein. UNDAUNTED. I made another appointment, for the main facility in midtown, because, well, MIDTOWN. It’s a slightly rougher-tumble part of town, and I figured at HQ, those people aren’t going to screw around. This time, my vein cooperated enough to make it to one unit. I burst into tears, because I’d been having a conversation with the tech helping me and adjusting my arm and the machine to get me to that one unit, and all I could think of was my father’s death from cancer, and how perhaps this small little unit could make a difference. Hopefully.

And then I made the next appointment. Each time has brought more learning, and thankfully, the people at the Community Blood Center are dedicated to getting it right. After all, platelets and plasma and blood do the very thing my daily job has never professed to do: save lives. We got even more learning from this donation, I got to the maximum of THREE units (and was euphoric!) and we know now even better settings for the machine for next time. Hearing from the staff about how excited they were to see me coming in, with such a high platelet count? That makes me PREEN for days. Yes, I have platelet vanity. Knowing you can give platelets every 6 days, I decided I would keep going, but at a slow lope, and aimed for every 3-4 weeks. Nope. Because they read the data and want you 100% healthy when you come in, so my turnaround time to generate red blood cells & more platelets is 8 weeks. (Yes, I called. I was convinced the computer was wrong. And while I was on hold waiting for a tech to come on the phone and explain what was going on, I saw that all of my units had gone to Children’s Mercy Hospital. I nearly lost it all over again.)
platelets

I have tried to explain this to several people, why this small piece of knowledge has blossomed into a sense of compulsion and duty, that I :must: give my blood/platelets, it’s not optional and that I hearken it to a religious experience. Because I was given this biology – I didn’t make it, I can’t eat certain foods to change it, I can’t “lose weight” and switch into a new blood type: it just IS. And what it is is rare. And vitally important for people going through what could very well be their worst time in their lives. Knowing that? How do I turn away? How do I say, well, I have this dislike of needles and all, and it’s kind of uncomfortable and it takes me 25 minutes to get there and about two hours total to go through the whole process, I mean, I have to do it on a Saturday, which is my weekend time? How do I say that and not be selfish? I can’t. I have something that requires a little effort, a little inconvenience, a little consternation and I can’t watch tv while I’m doing it because I have to stare with a furrowed brow and squeeze my hand really hard right before the return, because my blood pressure drops, and if it keeps messing up, we’ll have to end the donation. But someone else is waiting. Platelets only live for 5 days. Someone else, with chemo running through their veins is waiting. A child, with worried parents who are living their worst nightmare, waits for platelets to help restore their ability to clot blood.

So many people, just waiting. For unicorn platelets. Waiting.
For someone like me -and you- to say, “I need to do this.”

Truth #2

When everyone around you is wrong, the odds are high that the problem actually lies within you.

Reflect. Identify. Resolve.

Truth.

When we embrace the parts of ourselves that we feel are the worst elements, the ugliest pieces, the parts we ignore because they are so painful to acknowledge, once we look at them and wrap our arms around them in unconditional acceptance and love, that is when we truly find freedom.

This Is What A Feminist Looks Like

A friend of mine posted about how the UPS man wouldn’t hand over her package until she told him what was inside. He played that game. And I have to say, having experienced this sort of interaction more times than I could attempt to count in my 47 years on this planet, it’s probably one of the biggest contributing factors to my Face of Stone that makes people somewhat afraid of me when it surfaces, like a submarine rising to battle above the waters. Because fuck you, dude. Oh, I can hear it now. “He’s just flirting!” “He’s just having some fun.” “He’s just playing around, he probably likes you.”

You know what? I’m reached the age in life where IDGAF, because stuff like this, societally, blames me and says, “let’s excuse bad behavior because you’re not in the mood to put up with it.” And what dictates that I should be in the mood? Because I’m a woman, and I should welcome a man’s attention and interest and playful banter, even if all I’ve done is answer the goddamned door to receive a package, something I PAID FOR. No. Just, no. How about saying something like, “I hope it’s something you’ve been looking forward to!” or asking, “How’s your day been? What do you do for a living?” Because holding a package hostage under the guise of “just playin'” immediately tilts the balance of power. It says, “Until you give me what I want (the answer), I’m not going to give you what you reasonably expect to receive without issue.” It’s like holding a package high above a kid’s head and making them jump for it. And you can argue that on the grand scale of things, this is small stuff, but if someone thinks it’s ok to do, I really don’t want to know what other boundaries they might ignore. And I resent being “That Witch” who calls your supervisor to complain, or “That Cunt” who won’t play along with your idea of fun, or “That Humorless Bitch” who just won’t smile for you. The real problem, in my opinion, is that I’ve endured it enough that I could feel my anger as if it were happening to me.

Boundaries. Respect. This is what a feminist looks like. Basically the same shit everyone wants and expects from the humans they come in contact with.
Bighairjen

scraping the hull

It’s been a rough month, indeed. There was a brief respite – a quick trip to Vegas – that was an utter escape, lots of fun (no big wins) and I’d say Vegas is definitely like a Disneyland for adults. The rough spots have been lots of work, some serious brain chemistry working against me, and now, we find ourselves at a terrible spot with our younger dog, Tripper. He’s got a detached lens on his eye, an infected tooth, and his fever was too high for surgery. Now he’s panting, not eating, not drinking, and I’m desperately dropping pills down his throat to ease the pain and fight the infection(s). Plus an ice cube just now to try to get a smidgen of fluid into him. I’m taking him back to the vet tomorrow, and I fear deeply that unless they have answers and can stabilize him, our vibrant, goofy loving dog will be crossing the Rainbow Bridge before old age should have taken him. I’ve pretty much spent my weekend crying, not unlike each day the past month, so I’ll work to stay hydrated as well, and hope we all get through this with love, kindness, caring and the least amount of pain possible. And I’d like to ask for a new deck of cards, because I’m not doing well with what’s getting dealt to me.

#TilItHappensToYou

I wrote this blog post a year ago. I’ve carried the words inside me for 29 years. I’m an open book but I can also be intensely private. This is my story. I’m tired of pretending it’s not part of who I am, or that it influences my life. Today, I watched the video “Til It Happens To You” from Lady Gaga, and it’s like it happened yesterday. I’m done. Secrets eat you alive.

I look at your profile on Facebook once in a while.

Holding my breath the whole time, I don’t realize I’m doing it until I click away.

Your cover photo shows you standing with your wife and two sons, smiling. The American Dream, right? The comedy of the picture, with a previous family photo of you all lined up, on the stairway behind you.

I look at those boys.

Awkward in their teenage states.

I wonder, under my breath and in my head, “Will they grow up to be rapists, too?”

Because that’s what you were that night. My rapist. Mine. And then I click away. Avoid.
AvoidAvoidAvoidAvoid.

The bell that can never be unrung.

The night started out fun, a typical college fall weekend, drinking and laughing and all of us running outside, off to the next party. We kissed because you wanted me, and I thought what the hell, l’m having fun. It’s fun to be wanted. But. You were too needy. Some part of me sensed this, had always sensed it about you in regular interactions. Somewhere along the line, in my drunken stupor – I gave you the slip.

Went back to my dorm, the room began to spin, and I went into the co-ed restroom. Proceeded to get sick. Then I heard your voice in the hallway, and froze. You were calling out my name, banging on my door. I held my breath. Then another classmate said, Oh, she’s in the bathroom. Oh.
How I wish you hadn’t told him that.
Why did you do that. Oh.
I pretended to be passed out.

Would you tell your sons how you got under my arms, and dragged me out the door, back to my room? I opened my eyes in the hall, saw the girl who’d given away my location, pleaded with my eyes. But it was too late.

In your memory, I bet you don’t remember me telling you “No.” It was the only word I said.
Over and over. As you pulled my robe off. Pushed me into bed.
No
NoNoNoNoNo.
But it was not enough.

Years later, a therapist would explain to me that the reason I metaphorically left my body that night was to preserve myself. To save me further trauma, as you hunched over me, barely looking at me, absorbed in your own triumphant conquest. Thank god for small favors, right? You finished, you borrowed my robe to go to the bathroom, returned, dressed yourself & went back to your dorm room.

And you called the next day. A gentleman? Hoping for more? Pretending that word never happened, that it was some magical night.

NoNoNoNoNoNo.

At least we didn’t have phones in our rooms back then. Every time you called, I just shook my head. I’m pretty sure the senior classmate across the hall figured it out. She was pretty perceptive, even though we never talked about it. I went on to join a support group for sexual assault victims (I hate that word, “victim”, oh how I hate it) and I listened more than I spoke. Then I moved on to crisis counseling. I would channel my emotions into helping other people. I would gain weight, because nobody will ever be able to lift or drag me again. That powerless feeling is one of the worst feelings in my life, and I don’t know if it will ever go away.

Today, there’s lots of talk about addressing sexual abuse on college campuses. I listen to it quietly, and sometimes, if I’m getting ready in the morning and there’s a story on NPR, I’ll look at myself in the mirror. And my eyes fill with tears.

Because this will never leave me. I made bad choices. I got drunk. I kissed you back. And then, even though my voice said “No”, my physical being couldn’t defend myself and I was reduced to a warm body you used to your own satisfaction, never mind it wasn’t willing. “No.” I get to keep that word. You raped me. Your word is rapist. And I imagine now you talk to your boys, as a father, maybe you even say things about respecting women and you’ve changed the history in your mind, how I was a bitch who wouldn’t give you the time of day after a Friday night hookup.
What a bitch.
Yep.
The bitch who said no.
The bitch who will carry that night of violation and pain with her for a lifetime. Oh sure, like all scars, they thicken and they fade and they blur. But what has been marked upon cannot be undone.

You took my power from me, and I hate you. I hate that you have sons. I wish you’d had daughters, so a part of you could feel queasy inside, maybe you would look back on that night and think, maybe when she said no, she really meant no. No. I even said it. I said it. And you, you ignored it. And you would think, I don’t want that happening to my daughters. Because you wouldn’t, right? I will carry your name inside me until I die, but I’m tired of the pain you caused. Tired of being fucking triggered by Bill Cosby stories and fucking movie scenes that eroticize rape and tired of badly-written books that glamorize an imbalance in sexual power. Tired of hearing words like “unrapeable” because a woman isn’t pretty enough, thin enough, young enough. I’m tired of being silent about it. I am, in so many ways, a force to be reckoned with and a strong, intelligent woman. So I’m going to own it. Yes. If you know me? You know someone who was raped. No matter what the fuck I did, what the choices were that I made that night, you can judge me all you want, but I. Said. No.

And that word makes all the difference.

(P.S. – I’m editing this to add that someone who is incapacitated does not even HAVE the ability to consent. My “no” was actually unnecessary at that point, but I have still clung to it all these years because with everything that was taken, that remained mine.)

Unspoken

Unspoken

The spaces between us
Pile up with words
The silence collects them
Filling the room

None pass our lips
They accumulate in time
From our hearts
From our brains
Fear and circumstance
Leave everything unsaid

For every word that’s unspoken
Lies a matching response
They stack up in pairs
Nouns verbs all their mates
Full sentences of expression
Longing for breath
For the fullness of speech
Longing
Crushing
Invisible but
Tangible in the
Ache of
Never being voiced

Truth
In its purest form
No fear of reaction
Reprisals
Rejection
Still remains

Unspoken

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