Do You Know What Is Happening? (Or, why I’m not writing what I want to write)

I have been wanting to write about how every man I have dated more than once or have been interested in more than a passing way over the past nine years is now involved in a committed relationship of some kind. I’ve been self-indulgently and angstily thinking about this a lot. A lot of self-questioning is going on over here.

But, for all women my age – married, single or somewhere in between – something much more important is going on right now.

You remember how your parents used to tell you that you could be anything – no, really – you can do anything. Women’s rights has really opened things up for you. Women used to be only certain professions (nurses, teachers, housewives), but now that we are in the 1980s! The 1990s! Things are different. I was told I didn’t need to get married – I could do whatever I wanted. I was told I was not going to college to get an Mrs. degree.

When I was 17, I went to Planned Parenthood with a friend and obtained birth control with no more trouble than a cold speculum and a pamphlet.

My sister, on more than one occasion when I have balked at career moves, has said to me, “Don’t be one of those women.” Meaning, I assumed, that I should take opportunities and run with them.

My gay friends were simply friends. In retrospect, I was not that helpful to them. Still, I loved and supported them. And still do.

At home, I learned a requisite number of things that only boys used to be taught: changing a tire. More importantly,  I remember the feeling of absolute power using my own power tools around my own house – no husband in sight.

If you grew up white, middle-class in the Midwest, with fairly educated parents, your experience was possibly similar to mine. Or, maybe yours was wildly different – either way, here is the point, my friends:

Things that we have assumed to be settled and accepted are being debated and eroded in some of the most insidious ways. Women’s reproductive choices and a health care and insurance system that supports those is being deleted, and not slowly. Workplace and social equality for our queer friends is being rescinded at an alarming rate. Student loan forgiveness programs, and, indeed, access to higher education for our children are being pushed further and further out of reach. Our friends’ and our friends’ daughters’ experiences of sexual harassment and rape – whether they happened 30 years ago or yesterday – are being whitewashed so as not to ruin the lives of the perpetrators.

What are we doing? We are working. We are cooking supper. Taking art classes. Checking out library books. Feeling sad our children are leaving for college. A few women my age still haven’t given up on online dating.

Nothing is wrong with any of those or a host of other things that we are involved with. BUT – there’s always a BUT.

BUT the thing is: we have assumed that everyone had and has and will have the advantages we had. This is not the case.

I know, you’re thinking: sources. Give me sources for these assertions.

This is not that kind of article.

This article is asking you to think about the privileges you have enjoyed over your lifetime, and check on them to make sure they are still commanding a wide berth in our society. It’s possible they are not, and if not, you might want to do something. Get informed. Write letters. March. Vote.

There’s a much talked about novel-turned-TV-show, The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood. And, if it teaches its readers nothing else, it teaches us to pay attention.

The dating article can wait for another day.

Today, it’s time to pay attention.

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Perspective

“We are all something, but none of us are everything.” (Blaise Pascal)


Lydia isn’t exactly depressed, well, not clinically. Not the kind of depression where you have to take pills every morning just to get out of bed. Not yet. Not really. Lydia does get out of bed; she puts cereal and milk out for Henry and Lisa. They eat without complaint while Lydia has a Diet Coke. John leaves for work early – before the kids are up. He usually says goodbye before he takes the train into the city. He comes home late; if Lydia thought about it, she would realize that he is having an affair with his assistant. She does not think about it. After she takes the kids to school, Lydia often drives through Starbucks and gets herself a treat: venti caramel macchiato. She reasons that it’s good have something all to herself; this way, she gets the quiet, sugary drive home. Lydia’s day stretches before her like a chasm. She often has no idea what to do or how to spend her time. However, she will usually run a load of laundry and the vacuum before picking up the kids. For dinner, she will order take-out Chinese or a pizza from Bobbie’s. No point in really cooking if John’s not home. The kids eat and do their homework, accompanied by the drone of Disney Channel as Lydia drinks her dinner. They all go to bed around the same time. Tomorrow is another day.


Halwa rises in the dark each morning before anyone else in her village  – every day she is surprised to see neighbors still alive. Last month the armies destroyed nearby villages. People – human beings – disappeared. Her three children move their mats to the daytime hiding place as she leaves to make her way to the Oxfam camp. There, once the sun is up, she will stand in line to get a ration of corn, sugar, and oil. Often, Halwa will stay for help filtering water, or to wait for other supplies that may never show up. Halwa’s husband, Tabarak, has not been seen since the fighting near the villages two years ago; a battle that still rages. At that time, Halwa had just delivered her youngest child. After Tabarak disappeared, Halwa continued living. It is not a question. She forbids herself to think of her eldest son, Pir. He disappeared shortly after Tabarak. A single tear glistens if Halwa happens to think of her younger sisters. They tried to attend school, but they, too, were swallowed up. Perhaps they are still living. Perhaps it is better if they are not. Many years ago Halwa’s mother told her, “It is senseless to meditate on sadness.” Halwa does not. She gets the rations; she hides her children. Halwa thinks on life and lives for today.


tribute

i am the woman upstairs when company
comes doors are closed and sometimes
locked and i may be on one side
or the other with the yellow wallpaper
and i may creep around to have
a look in the parlor or i may lay down
with the baby while it naps —
a calming guzzle to its sleep
breath but i may also crouch
behind the swinging kitchen door
to frighten cook when she brings the
tea tray or perhaps that’s me —
i am supposed to bring the sandwiches
and petit fours and berries but
i have forgotten because i am no angel
and the children whimper in the
nursery as the trees’ waves
entrance me through the windy rain and
laudanum – either too much or too little —
doesn’t level and the doctor’s hushed
syllables float past and out the window while
i sit in my own room with rocks in
the pockets of my sweater as they
all wonder and glance and employ
the carefully constructed
nonacknowledgment of the flowers
i had to buy myself when it was
so difficult; no one can be properly
organized to do anything so i find
sipping tea from a jar in the kitchen
much easier than standing an outing
anywhere and in the dark
up in the cupola i can see
the water and ships and the
lighthouse cuts the pitch and i know
i know because i am the woman
upstairs.