Wednesday, December 13, 2017

My take on #MeToo

As the reports of sexual harassment have multiplied in the news and #MeToo has become a topic of conversation everywhere--because every women has a story to tell--I've had a nagging sense that something was missing. Or rather, that the focus on unwanted sexual advances is missing the larger point about how women are treated by men.

Not all women are groped or harassed regularly at work (especially as we grow older and less attractive). But all of them are interrupted by men in meetings. Many think carefully before taking credit for a good idea--or reflexively, deflect the credit elsewhere. We guard how we speak, careful to be tactful and indirect--and if we're not doing that consciously, it's because we've been so well socialized that we do it unconsciously.

This morning I read an article that articulates what I've been trying to home in on: "This Moment Isn’t (Just) About Sex. It’s Really About Work" by Rebecca Traister at New York magazine. I hope you'll read it, especially if you're a man who is trying to make sense of the #MeToo movement.

Here's the sentence that made me say,  "Yes. Exactly."
It’s not that we’re horrified like some Victorian damsel; it’s that we’re horrified like a woman in 2017 who briefly believed she was equal to her male peers but has just been reminded that she is not, who has suddenly had her comparative powerlessness revealed to her.

You really should read the whole thing, because Traister lays out the many shades of how sexual harassment demeans women's work as well as their sense of autonomy and power.

Many women I know, when placed in a situation that makes them feel angry and powerless, tear up and cry. And then feel humiliated because they now look even more powerless, when in fact they are righteously angry. There are many ways beside sexual harassment that women are confronted with the realization they whatever their skills and intellect, the men around them see mainly their sexuality and gender and value them for their looks, the way they care for men's feelings, for their gracious manners, or their usefulness as status symbols.

I think back to my days in college and graduate school. There was the conference with the professor I had for Old Testament. I was there to talk about a paper. He believed in using this opportunity to get to know students, so we're chatting, and I say something that identifies me as a feminist. Oh, how he shamed me for that. Don't you want to have a family? Don't your parents have a good marriage? (This last question was especially offensive and prying, since my father was his colleague.) There was also my realization that the young women with easy-going supportive friendships with professors were the women who were flirtatious and attractive. Smart was way down on the list of desirable qualities if you were a girl student.

All of this is not to say that men and women cannot have three-dimensional, mutually respectful relationships. But women have learned that those kind of relationships can never be assumed.

The world shouldn't be this way--and this moment in our culture is an opportunity to become woke to more than just sexual harassment. It's time to understand how far our patriarchal culture still must go before women are valued as full human beings in every dimension.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Advent 2017

(Photo by PetraBlahoutova from Pixabay and the Creative Commons search tool.)

The upside of waking up too early on a December morning is being able to sit in the bay window of my living room and watch the morning light rise into the sky. It's a little tricky--the chair points away from the window, so I have to remember to glance back over my shoulder--away from my laptop--to watch the new day's progress. If there were dramatic streaks of pink in the clouds this morning, I've missed them, but still, at 7:04 a.m., the official time of sunrise on December 6 at my midwestern longitude, the brightening, quiet sky is something to see. Something to smile at.

For some people it's mountains, for others it's water. For me, it's sky--whether it's stretched out south to north over the horizon of a Green Bay sunset or looming over a late-afternoon traffic jam in suburban Chicago. Perhaps I believe, like a preschooler, that God lives out there, where space is so vast it has to be measured in light-years of time, where I am nothing but a passing moment on the surface of a small, but unusual planet.

It's Advent and that planet is troubled. Words of the prophets imploring justice ring hard and true. It's a short Advent this year. We celebrate the fourth Sunday of the liturgical season just hours before the Christmas Eve candlelight services begin.

There's so little time from sun-up to sun-down this month. And so much work to do, much of it while it is night.

But the light is coming! Has come! Will come!

Sunday, November 05, 2017

All Saints 2017

Random on All Saints Sunday, November 5, 2017

1. It's been a long and very full weekend. I have no hope of putting together a coherent post, especially after a couple of Lagunitas IPAs and a Chicago Classic pizza at Lou Malnati's.

2. But stuff has been splatting on the windshield of my spirit, like insects on a long night drive. Can't ignore the mess.

3. I've sung Morten Lauridsen's Lux aeterna three times in the last 24 hours. It's gorgeous. It's ethereal. It's not even all that hard to sing. I've purposely stayed away from taking in the translation of the Latin, even from thinking about it. I can't produce the space and the sound and the support for the musical line if I'm thinking about that eternal light and my dear ones who rest there. (Or in Kris's case, are playing Frisbee with Jesus--my mind went there briefly during one performance and had to be rapidly called back to the Latin.)  

4. Space and sound and breath embody Spirit in music, which lifts earth to heavenly spheres of joy and laughter and light. Is that, maybe, incarnation in reverse?

5. More than once today, I found myself wondering if we have taken the hard edge off sainthood, or have sentimentalized the inevitable grief of living with our teary remembrances of dear ones, our candles lit for "saints" now in heaven with God. For "all of us," says the canticle, "all of us go down to the dust." And then—dear God!—24 people (is that the most recent total?) are murdered at 11:30 on a Sunday morning in a Baptist church in Texas. The incense of shock and sorrow barrels across Twitter and Facebook and internet news sites, as a few prophetic voices cry, this should not be! But sadly, we feel more and more helpless each time this happens. And what other response is there then, than sentimentality over the stories of the dead. 

6. "I am not resigned," said Edna St. Vincent Millay in "Dirge Without Music." 
I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely.  Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.
7. I'm with Edna--not resigned, though I have seen the ashes on the hard ground, even as the spirit of loved ones lost flows all around me and within me, in memory, in thought, in joys, in places, in people. 

8. Spent some time with Kris's friends, who were "krawlin' for Kris" along Madison Street in Forest Park last night, visiting the bars they'd hung out in together, before his ALS diagnosis, before the wheelchair, before he died. I'm not good at late nights in bars with funny stories, teasing, pool tables and punching bags--never was. But it was good to be with them for a short time, to hug them, to enjoy their company, even as a totally sober old person. 

9. A friend pointed out to me today that to call a maple tree losing its leaves in fall a birthday tree is to put death into a larger context, to suggest that something else is coming into being. A poet, perhaps, could say this elegantly in sixteen lines, or twenty--and would discard or hide these random notes. Me--I'm going to hit publish and pick up my knitting. 

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Birthday tree 2017

I've been watching the birthday tree.

That would be the maple tree in front of our house which Lon noticed, and then I saw, too, had turned brilliant red when the sun rose on Sunday, November 2, the day after our son Kris was born. Sometime in the next few years, as the tree put on its annual show for our All Saints' Day baby, Lon dubbed it "the birthday tree."

Lon liked to make legends. Some he made by living them, "Front Page" style in the newsroom. He also liked to name his cars and compare life to his favorite movies. He liked our kids' birth stories, myth-size family stories, and created them as well as kept them.

I came to believe in his story of the birthday tree. The pink glow that its scarlet leaves cast on the living room in late October and early November is like a filter on an aging actress. It lifts my spirits, gentles my soul, and probably hides wrinkles, or at least bathes them in flattering rose-pink.

But it's not a typical year for this red maple in the parkway. Midway through October its branches were dotted with red leaves, but they blew off on a windy day. The leaves still on the tree are green or dull green-grey. They were nothing to today's Halloween Batmen and Spidermen, the miscellaneous hooded middle-schoolers with gruesome greasepaint, or the tiny preschool princesses (one of whom  carried her blue princess pumps and plopped them on the porch at my feet when she said "trick or treat"--they hurt to wear, said her mom, but they were still part of her costume).

The birthday tree has not gone glorious, at least not yet. Might be the lateness of the fall, yet another sign of pervasive climate change. Might be damp weather, or dry weather, or grief.

I miss Kris intensely. (He died three months ago, at the age of 30.) His cheerful, alert, oh-fuck-it spirit is very much alive to me in photos and memories. I resist saying much about this, whether it be in simple words or in metaphor, lest the explaining take the edge off, dull the memory or diminish how much I hate that this happened.

The weather app says it will rain tomorrow, on Kris's birthday. From the look of the tree today there won't be a scarlet surprise in my front window in the morning--no matter what the pigments do as winter approaches. Maybe next year.

I've got a snapshot of Kris, maybe seven years old, climbing in the tree in spring, red t-shirt, red buds on the branches against a blue sky. Can't post it, because the computer and scanner are resisting the commands coming at them from the mouse.

Maybe next year.

Sunday, October 08, 2017


It was a two-rainbow week.

Rainbow #1 appeared in the sky on Tuesday morning, a dreary morning. The air was heavy, too warm for October. I backed out of the garage, drove south for a block and turned right—west—and saw the full rainbow stretching broadly over the houses, the school, the school yard. The harder I looked, the more it seemed to be a trick of light. Real things waver in the wind--flags, trees, kites. Airplanes cut right through the current. The air that high above the ground was surely moving but the rainbow held steady, in one place, that was not really a place at all. I drove a half-mile before I encountered the rain that had refracted that bow, but by the time my windshield was wet, the rainbow had faded.

Rainbow #2 was spectacular. Saw it at 5:45 last evening, again while driving. The sun was bright and sinking in the west, but there was rain where I was. I looked east and there it was, stretched across the  sky, dividing the heavens from the earth, or so it seemed. It lasted the full 20 minutes it took to drive to our destination—like it was permanent—-and seemed to grow more wonderful the longer you looked. The legs, if that's what you call the parts that seem anchored in the ground, vibrated with color, and a second rainbow, fainter but still distinctly there, formed above the first one. I'm proud to say I did not rear-end anyone despite the distracted driving and managed to take a couple pictures when the car was stopped. My phone dinged with a video of the same rainbow, texted by a friend who lives ten miles northeast of me.

It was everywhere! And yet--where? This one shone so bright and strong, it looked like there must be a pot of gold somewhere nearby that you could drive to. Its sheer persistence seemed to be saying something, as if God was broadcasting an upbeat message to the world after a particularly awful week.

One can see how rainbows made it into Genesis.

Monday, October 02, 2017


I took two trips in the last week. One to Michigan for the funeral of my cousin John, who died too soon, too young, at age 57, of liver cancer. The other trip was to Washington Island, for a fall weekend with my daughter at a familiar place, full of family memories.

Now that I'm back, been to a choir rehearsal, checked my Twitter feed, unpacked the suitcase and put my feet up on the ottoman in front of my usual chair, I feel like a stranger in my home. I've thought a lot in the past seven days about being a child in an extended family rooted in Detroit and in rural Michigan and about who I am as an adult in that family. I've thought a lot about the years of being a mother to young children as they played lakeside on Washington Island.

I don't want to come back. It's not just the work week ahead, the meetings, the problems to untangle, the trip to the grocery store. It's something about lugging a load of leaden grief with me through all those things--lugging it, mostly silently, grimly.

 Both Cousin John and my son, Kris, who died in July, were extroverts, the lube in the social network, happiest when everyone got along. And joyful to be around.

 That joy resides in the past now. When it does break through into the here and now, it shows up in tears. Wet, salty, runny tears remember love and sweetness and special sons.

There's nothing to do but feel it, I guess. That's what grieving is--slowly letting in feelings that seem too much to bear at first, in anything more than the tiniest dose. And learning to love those feelings.

Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted. 

Perhaps by those very holy tears.

Sunday, September 03, 2017


While I was on vacation at the beginning of August I wove a basket. I've made baskets before, on and off in the last 15 years—some more successful than others—but hadn't made any in several years.  I wanted something to do on vacation besides the usual knitting and writing, something that I would struggle with a little bit, something that was a little bit challenging, even frustrating, that would take my mind off feeling sad or feeling lonely. Soaking reed, cutting spokes, weaving and trying to make the shape that's emerging under your hands conform to the one in your mind--these are things to do that are just absorbing enough to mute grief for a while on a summer afternoon.

I ordered a kit for this basket. There are two large plastic boxes of basket supplies in my attic, but rooting though the mess to figure out what I could make from what I already had would have been a bridge too far.  Basket reed comes tied into coils when you purchase it. But the minute you start to use it--either by clipping the strings that bind it, or by trying to pull pieces out of the coil without clipping the strings--you've got a wild and springy mess on your hands.

A kit, ordered at the last minute from Amazon Prime, gave me what I needed to make one controlled basket. I found the pencil box that held clothespins and few other tools and I was good to go.

The kit was for a "bread basket," oval, sturdy, medium-size. with a wooden bottom. The spokes fit into a continuous slot that runs around the sides of the wooden bottom. The first couple rows of weaving hold them in place.

Weaving is easy. Shaping the basket is hard. My oval was lopsided. One long side stood straight up, the other flared out rather more than it should have. But as it happened, I left the basket on a table in the screened-in breezeway of the cottage one night when it rained. The basket was thoroughlysoaked. I pushed and stretched and tied it together in the shape I wanted it to be, and three days later, back home and all dried out, both sides stood up tall.

Now, straight, deep and with a heavy bottom, it holds sympathy cards on my dining room table.

There are a lot of cards. It will be six weeks tomorrow that Kris died and the stream of notes and cards is only now thinning out. Each card has brought handwritten words -- sometimes just a few, often quite a lot. People are wise enough to stick to simple things for the most part, sharing memories of Kris, thankfulness for his life and his blog and his caring. They've thought about the right words, found a good pen and written them by hand. Some have waited a few weeks, not knowing what to say, or knowing, perhaps, that I will need to hear these things for a long time, not just a week or ten days after Kris's passing. I open them and read them right when I get home from work, as soon as I pull them out of the mailbox. I cry every time, inevitably, just a little bit. It's healthy—like taking a nightly glass of red wine.

I've never been a big card-sender myself. There's no box of all-occasion cards in my desk, like my grandmother or Aunt Clara would have kept on hand. I bought a sympathy card yesterday to send to someone else who recently lost a young-adult son, and I was surprised at the price. But then, I'm cheap, and not especially well-organized. When I need to send a card, I dig through the basket or the desk drawer and come up with a blank card--something dated and artsy, or leftovers from writing opening-night notes for shows I've directed. Thinking of what to write is not hard if you keep your ambition modest--something truthful and real, however small.

This collection of cards in my basket holds many messages like that--a grade-school classmate remembering Kris's friendliness or that he was the boy who didn't tease her. People acknowledging how hard this has all been. Statements of firm faith, along with statements of faith that acknowledge how little we understand of what we mean when we say "resurrection" and "life after death."

I don't seem to have a lot of words right now--beyond the ones I say to Eliza many times each day: "I miss Kris." Or I have them but can't seem to say them much less follow them into the past or into the future.

I do have the words of friends, in a very nice, though not quite symmetrical, basket on my dining room table. Thank you.