Friday, March 30, 2012

The Heart of the Matter

My spirit life has been commandeered by Pelican. Pelican, with his message of forgiveness and release. Pelican, to whom I nodded and smiled last August, in acknowledgement and thanks for a lesson put forth and learned. Or so I thought.

I suppose I thought that simply realizing that there were people and situations I had to forgive and release was the extent of the lesson. I understood that I harbored resentment against a whole legion of those who had populated my life during my tenure at the restaurant. Looking back at those years always devolved into an unpleasant review of this laundry list of people and experiences that had hurt me, vexed me or left me completely abandoned.

Ex-landlord. Ex-employees. Ex-customers. Former competitors. The City of Scappoose. The State of Oregon. Every purveyor who had ever screwed me or dropped me.

My husband...

So when Pelican appeared last summer, I believed I confronted and forgave all that. I accomplished this with one rather tidy technique: I simply quit looking back. I have kept my eyes studiously either closed in repose or searching the horizon for my new path. I guess I believed that the very fact that I could look ahead, rather than wallow in the hurt and the bitterness, meant I had done as Pelican had bade me.

But Pelican has not gone away.

And I realized today that, if I ever knew what forgiveness was, if I had ever actually bestowed it upon anyone in my life who had done me a bad turn (and I think I have), I’ve either forgotten what it was, or forgotten how to give it. Or that endless five years of constant emotional assault has built up such a huge well of hurt and bitterness that whatever I knew of forgiveness is completely powerless against it. I feel like I’ve been asked to clean up a lake of blood with a thimble full of bleach and a Q-tip.

The more I know the less I understand
All the things I thought I figured out I have to learn again
I’ve been trying to get down
To the heart of the matter
But my will gets weak
And my thoughts seem to scatter
But I think it’s about
Even if, even if…

I think Pelican is going to be with me for a very long time...

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Not My Strong Point...

It’s hard to try to write something positive or uplifting when it is, once again, dark and cold and POURING. For me, the need to be outdoors is always pressing, particularly in the spring, and the weather has been hideous. Our little corner of the world is on track for the wettest March on record. And, oh…the rest of the country is basking in 80-degree weather. Which, when you think about it, is more scary than wonderful. Still, I would be grateful for 60 degrees and not-rain, thank you very much. Makes one wonder what the summer will be like.

I find myself at a real impasse with my writing. At first, I decided I would make the effort to write something—ANYthing—every day. That seemed to work for awhile—a couple of weeks, anyway…which is as long as I am able to maintain a head of steam for anything these days. But I felt singularly uninspired (and the weather is not helping in that regard.) So I decided to spend some time writing a couple of what I thought were meaty and pretty decent essays. I dipped into the well of current events/politics, from which I have traditionally drawn my best inspiration. Posted two pieces having to do with the perceived right wing attack on women’s civil rights. I originally crafted these entries for Women On, but decided to cross-post them here.

The reaction to these posts was less than galvanizing, to say the least. I appreciate Kat’s and Terri’s thoughtful comments on “Why Now?” The bra-burning post inspired nary a comment. On either blog.

No sooner do I venture to proclaim out loud, for the first time, that “I am a writer!” than I find, to my chagrin, that perhaps I am not one after all. Because I seem to have fallen victim to literary laryngitis. I have no voice. Or at least, I don’t have one that anyone wants to hear. If I let it, this knowledge would surely break my heart. But I can’t let it.

This is exactly what I do not need right now, and I would think the Universe would GET it (yes, I’m whining.) I am finally to the point where I am (SO!) done resting, and I’ve gathered enough courage to go out on these little forays into projects that might turn into The Next Adventure. This is not as straight-forward as it sounds. It isn’t just a matter of finally being bored with accomplishing nothing and deciding it’s time to get up and get back at it. It’s a daily skirmish between myself and my demons, where-in I struggle to dodge their attack and throw a rope around anything that might promise to keep me from falling back…so far back into myself that I am, at last, irretrievable.

I am so in need of a little victory right now. A little direction. A tiny voice from the Universe declaring, “This is it! You’ve found the right path!” But I wonder, would I even hear it if it were not as loud as, say, a sonic boom? Maybe the Universe is screaming in my ear, and I’m just not hearing it.

As I sat and wrote this, I started to get the feeling that I’m being told to wait. Wait? I hate waiting. I’m the world’s worst waiter. Frankly, I’m a little peeved that the Universe does not recognize this and cut me a little slack given what I have been through. And then a little ditty floated into my mind, something from ‘way back in my Pentecostal Christian days. A song. Actually, a bible verse put to music:

“They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles…” Isaiah 40:31

The “eagle” reference assured me that this is, indeed, a message from the Almighty specifically to ME.


Fine. I’ll wait. But do I have to like it?

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

We Should've Just Kept Burning 'em...

I mentioned in my previous post that I have a hard time understanding why today’s women are so eager to sexually objectify themselves. Actually, this seminal fact is what drove me to write the post to begin with. And the idea was put into my head by a trip to a department store to buy a bra.

Back in the Stone Age, I was a petite, skinny adolescent. I didn’t develop what could be called “breasts” until I was in high school. Even so, in seventh grade, I began wearing a size 28AA “training bra.” You remember those—the ones that looked just like a miniature grown-up bra but had soft, stretchy tricot cups. I wore the bra not because I actually needed to, but because by that age, I would be mortally embarrassed not to wear one. By the time I was a senior in high school, I probably would have actually grown into that bra.

Luckily, the 70’s trend toward braless fashions played right into my body type, and spared me further embarrassment in the locker room. It was fortunate I didn’t need a bra, because I could never find one that fit me. I remained a AA cup size throughout my twenties. Every trip to the mall to buy a bra ended in utter frustration. There was never a bra on the rack that did not hang on my skinny chest like a day-old helium balloon.

After the stretchy almost-braless look of the late seventies faded, sports bras became my best friends. Thank god for Olivia Newton-John and Jane Fonda. For the next thirty years, it was a struggle to keep myself covered in socially acceptable lingerie. The off-the-rack world never accepted my proportions.

Along about five years ago, I discovered that gravity and the extra pounds that come with age had presented me with a mixed blessing: I could now wear a B cup. Praise the Lord and pass the Playtex! For the first time in my life, I would be able to walk into a store and grab an almost feminine-looking bra in my size right off the rack! And I could…for about three and a half years.

Until society, the retail gods, or whoever, decided that no American woman worth dressing wore smaller than a C cup. The breasts of today’s fashionable female will be foamed, molded, under-wired and push-upped into the glorious ripe-melon globes demanded by our voyeuristic and sex-obsessed media. I searched the lingerie racks in three department stores in one day, and I found exactly one bra in my size.

It made me angry, and it gave me a bit of insight into why the times are so ripe for the unabashed stripping away of women’s rights. If we dress as sex objects, why shouldn’t society see us that way? Where do we expect this hyper-sexual look to take us? To the boardroom or the bedroom? Is it any wonder that right wing groups have chosen NOW to begin hammering away at our rights? Take a look at the way we dress. We have capitulated. We don’t want to be strong and equal anymore. We want to be soft and sexual.

Not only that, but we want our daughters to be soft and sexual from an appallingly early age.

My path toward the escalator after my disappointingly enlightening bra shopping excursion took me through girls’ clothing. Prominently displayed front and center of the department was a rack of bras. Remember those “training bras” with the tricot cups that I wore until I was fourteen? Not a one of those dinosaurs was in evidence. The rack was covered with little bitty padded push-up bras. With under-wires. Some of these were so tiny that, despite being labeled an almost acceptable “30AA” (the size I wore when I was in high school) it was obvious they were meant to be worn by little girls as young as six or seven years old. Who else is going to wear “Hello Kitty” underwear?

If there is a word for this fashion trend that is not “disgusting,” “depraved,” or “abusive,” I certainly couldn’t come up with it. Honestly. What are we thinking when we dress our little girls this way? What kind of feelings do we expect them to have? Or to inspire? Equality and empowerment? I think not.

So, sisters... If you want a better understanding of why our rights are ripe for the taking, just go to the mall. You will see women practically lining up to just...hand them back.

Cross-posted at "Women On..."

Friday, March 16, 2012

Why Now?

We have come a long way from the kitchens which were the centers of our post-war mothers’ and grandmothers’ lives. Equal rights sojourners—of which, in some small way, I was one—gained a lot of ground for themselves and their sisters in the seventies, eighties and nineties. But we all know we are not there yet. We have a long way to go; and it’s in the minds of right-wing rabble-rousers across the country to give us a push-start for that long journey—in the WRONG DIRECTION.

Why now, almost forty years after Roe v Wade and the ERA shone the spotlight upon fair and equitable treatment of women in our society, are we witnessing a surge of anti-feminism? What makes today’s political ground so fertile that individual state legislatures have succeeded in passing a record number of anti-choice bills in the past twelve months? And what has put it into the narrow minds of the extreme right-wing that it is now safe to advance their agenda on the federal level? And to expand their list of social sins to include not just legal abortion, but birth control, health resources for poor women, and equal pay for equal work?

Certainly we can blame this fiasco on the continued efforts of the GOP to court the votes of the far right. To my knowledge, the practice began with the Reagan campaigns of the 80’s. Throughout both of his election campaigns, Reagan paid all sorts of lip-service to issues important to the Religious Right—abortion rights and school prayer being the chief hot topics of the day. I remember with dismay the pastor of our small Pentecostal church exhorting his flock from the pulpit to go out and “vote for the Ronald Reagan of your choice.” But Reagan was no fool. As soon as the ink was dry on the votes sweeping him into office, he dropped those issues like a hot rock.

Fast forward thirty years, and the GOP has pulled out all the stops to be all things to all conservatives, without regard to HOW conservative. The Bush years saw a truly amazing metamorphosis of the Republican Party, wherein every GOP lawmaker was pressed into lockstep with the party line. The perfection of this tactic formed the GOP into a formidable force. In majority, they were unstoppable; and in minority, they were the ultimate obstruction. Centrists locked arms with extremists and stood their ground. For almost a decade, Republicans managed to maintain and wield that control like a laser. Until the 2010 mid-term elections, when right wing extremists finally woke up to the fact that their concerns were not being paid much more than lip service by the Republican Pary at large. And the Tea Party was born.

Now the GOP finds itself infected with a massive case of “Tail Wagging The Dog” Disease. And instead of trying to amputate the tail, they’re determined to bargain with it. I’m sure in the minds of mainstream Republicans (if such a beast still exists) there’s no harm in trading off the civil rights of a few powerless minorities in order to maintain the Party’s ability to guard the only things that are REALLY important: Money and Power. And don’t think the Religious Right doesn’t know this. They are poised to take full advantage of the GOP’s attempt to ward off gangrene by making peace offerings to the tail.

Unfortunately, they’ve made a possibly fatal mistake, in that they’ve allowed themselves to believe that American women are nothing more than a “powerless minority.”

So, yes…the political ground for rolling back Women’s rights is more fertile than it has ever been in the forty years since Roe v Wade. But I wonder: Doesn’t some of the blame for society’s rejection of feminism fall squarely on our own shoulders? Perhaps we have proudly presented to our daughters and granddaughters a hard won, carefully wrapped gift, which they opened and threw aside because they thought they already had one. Because we did not teach them about the beauty and fragility of this gift, and how to use it to expand their lives and enrich the world.

By the middle of the 20th century, modern American women were expected to excel in school, go to college and/or get jobs and leave home. Then they were supposed to find husbands and give all that up, get married, have kids and keep house. Then, when the kids were all in school, they were pushed to rejoin the work force and contribute to household income so that the family could enjoy a better quality of life. Oh, and they were still responsible for keeping house and minding the kids. Is it any wonder that women of our generation rebelled? We saw what a raw deal our mothers had got. Why would we want to grow up to be just like them—used and abused, overworked and underpaid? There was massive inequity going on here, and we determined to change it.

We knew that we were every bit as smart, talented, motivated and worthy as our brothers. But our roads to success were complicated by choices that men never had to make. A woman had to face the social stigma of choosing a career over a relationship or marriage; or risk an unwanted or ill-timed pregnancy short-circuiting her career goals. And recreational sex was out of the question. Then the 1970’s brought us access to safe, legal abortion. And The Pill. Reproductive freedom put us within striking distance of equal footing with men. At long last, we would have the opportunity to climb the ladder of success beside men, rather than leaning our shoulders into their posteriors and pushing them to the top. Or standing at the bottom holding the ladder.

I’d like to say we took that freedom and did it justice. We became doctors and lawyers, reporters and scientists, mathematicians and historians, ministers and astronauts, generals and legislators. There wasn’t a previously male-dominated field that we didn’t pursue; without fear of reproductive repercussions, we had the time and the luxury to pound on any door until it opened. Was it a walk in the park? No. But for the first time, it was possible.

But when we did eventually produce daughters, what did we teach them? Did we hand them the feminist manifesto with reverence? Did we arm them with the knowledge of how to use it to enhance their own lives and the lives of women across the globe? Or did we fail to communicate the responsibility that went along with the freedom, as all freedoms confer responsibilities?

Because, honestly, when I look at the culture of today’s young American women, I’m certain there has been a major malfunction of the baton-passing process. Currently, forty percent of all births in the US are to unmarried women. Forty percent. Why do so many sexually active young women choose, not to “start a family,” but to “have a baby?” (There’s a difference.) Babies and “baby bumps” have become 21st century fashion accessories. Do our daughters and granddaughters even know about the tools for reproductive choice we so cherished forty years ago?

Recently a Portland couple won a $3 million dollar Wrongful Birth suit against a prominent hospital. It seems their child was born with Down’s syndrome, even though doctors assured the couple that prenatal testing did not show a problem with the baby before delivery. It came out during the trial that the couple would have certainly terminated the pregnancy had they been aware of the baby’s condition. Is this why we fought so hard for safe, legal abortion? So that a young presumably secure married couple could produce and reject fetuses until they got one they liked?

And why are today’s women so eager to sexually objectify themselves? Plastic surgery practices are booming. Billboards lining the freeways tell us where to go to get a tighter butt, a lineless face, a flawless figure. Teenagers ask for breast implants for their birthdays. High school kids “sext” during class and post explicit photos of themselves on social media. We wanted the freedom to choose to have sex. But our daughters have chosen to be slaves to sex. Why?

Taking all this into account, I don’t wonder why folks might entertain the idea of going backward. If the sexual revolution visited all this evil upon our society, can’t we just take it back? Pretend it never happened? Go back to the good old days?

Of course, the answer is, “No.” Going backward is never the answer. You can’t recreate the good old days; we have knowledge and experience that we didn’t have then. We’ve learned lessons we can’t unlearn. The point now is to put that knowledge into practice.

So, in a certain way, I welcome this fresh assault upon our sovereignty. Perhaps this will show our daughters that the freedom they have taken for granted (and squandered) not only hasn’t always existed, but could, under certain deplorable circumstances, be taken away. And perhaps we will get a second chance to polish off the pure ideals of feminism and hand them to our daughters the right way this time. Reverently and deliberately, and with emphasis on the responsibilities that come with the victory. I think maybe we could all come out the better for it.

Cross-posted at "Women On..."

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Morning Ritual

Here is a little ritual in which I indulge most mornings these days...

...and then I flush the ashes down the toilet.

It has occurred to me that perhaps I should p*** on them before I flush. Maybe I will.

Don't know that this is really helping me conquer my fears, but at least I'm looking them in the eye and kicking them in the shin.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Rainy Days and Mondays...

No sooner did I give in to the temptation to wax rhapsodic about the arrival of spring, than the Powers That Be contrived to dash that notion by sending the worst storm of the winter to darken our skies, whip us with gale force winds and soak us with buckets of cold rain. It poured and blew for sixteen hours straight. My yard is a quagmire. My garden books are staring at me hopelessly from the bookshelves; I had not quite whipped up the moxie to open them yet. And now they know they’re going to sit idle until the sun comes out again. Whenever that might be. July?

I hate traitorous weather. Beautiful as spring eventually is in the Pacific Northwest, it is also maddeningly shy and capricious. The days get longer and longer, and the sun, when it manages to fight its way through the storm clouds, shows promise of real warmth. But the net effect of the days lengthening toward the summer solstice is that we get more hours to sit indoors and scowl at the constant parade of clouds and squalls outside the window. As far as I’m concerned, if the weather is going to be crappy, it might as well be dark, too.

We are in a mood, aren’t we? Without a more engaging activity to occupy my mind, my moods mirror the weather, especially this late in the rainy season. A fine day will renew my vigor and send my spirit soaring. Crappy weather whacks me right out of the sky and plunks me, pouting, into my recliner. From which I will rise now and then, to pace from room to room, growling, casting evil eyes at the force outside the windows that keeps me caged inside.

I am DONE with winter. Make with the Spring, already.

Friday, March 9, 2012

The Cost-Counting Continues

My post business-owner journey has been an interesting ride, to say the least. Hard to believe I’ve been a (mostly) free woman for ten months. It doesn’t seem that long at all. I’m still undeniably in the “recovery” stage. I catch myself doing or thinking things I never would have done pre-café, or I ponder my frustrating inability to accomplish anything that takes more than a week’s worth of concentration, and I know I haven’t moved completely beyond that chapter in my life, and haven’t come close to beginning a new one.

I’m STILL in limbo. But instead of just floating above everything, as I was doing a few months back, now I’m dog-paddling around, bouncing off rocks and tree roots, unable (unwilling?) to grab one and pull myself out. I’m afraid the people in my life, including those who read this blog, are beginning to think, “PICK something, already!” Even I think it’s probably past time for me to be doing SOMETHING more constructive. But it just hasn’t happened. Yet.

The previous two paragraphs are meant as a preface; an apology of sorts. Because the thing that led me to the keyboard this morning is yet another observation of the changes wrought in me by my stint in restaurant ownership. So if you’re tired of hearing about this stuff, stop reading now and come back in a couple of months. Maybe by then I’ll have something more interesting to write about.

A few nights ago, the husband and I were on an evening shopping trip and we stopped at one of our old favorite restaurants over the hill. This is a tiny pasta place in a strip mall; they have maybe ten tables—smaller even than my late lamented cafe. You order and pay at the front counter, then sit down and wait for them to bring your meal. I left the husband to place our order, grabbed our silverware and napkins and walked to the back of the place, where most of the better tables are located.

The back dining room was empty—the promise of a quiet, intimate dining experience glimmered in my mind’s eye. But I had no sooner chosen a table and hung my coat on the back of the seat than a woman carrying a shiny beribboned gift bag strode into the space and began eying the entire room proprietarily. I recognized the scenario instantly: The woman planned to bring in a large-ish (in comparison to the space) party and had counted upon the place being empty so she could have her pick of the few tables available. The manager bustled in behind her and looked at me helplessly, but I had already begun to pick up my things and move to one of the smaller tables crammed against the wall by the kitchen door. He thanked me profusely, but I couldn’t even muster an understanding smile. I was just…irritated. It was like having a PTSD-esque flashback. As they pushed the three biggest and best tables together to accommodate her party of ten, the husband rejoined me. He glanced in the direction of the activity going on, raised an eyebrow and said, “Looks like someone decided to bring in a big party and couldn’t bother to call ahead.” Bingo. Argh.

Moments later, two parentless children came galloping into the space, bouncing like pinballs off the two tables left available, chattering loudly all the while. They made their choice then careened, coatless, back through the dining room toward the front register where presumably their parent was engaged in placing their order. Sigh! When we’d first arrived to a 90% empty restaurant, I had high hopes for a relatively quiet, calm dining experience. Now it appeared we would be shoe-horned into this tiny dining room with my worst nightmares: a ten-top birthday party and a table of rowdy unrestrained children. Perfect!

In the end, the dinner was not the horror it might have been. The party-goers were reserved and orderly; the children piped down once their slightly whiney, over-solicitous New Age dad joined them (Dad passive-aggressively pronounced the kids’ chosen table “claustrophobic” and made them move to the only other table available. Husband again raised his eyebrow and mouthed, “I don’t know which is worse—the kids…” “…or the Dad?” I whispered back.) Our dining experience was not ruined, just somewhat…compromised.

Hence my lament of yet another change inflicted upon me by my entrepreneurial endeavor. I HATE CUSTOMERS. Any customers. Not just my own…well, I don’t have any, anymore, do I? But apparently, having been on the receiving end of the thoughtlessness, attitudes, idiocy and often downright rudeness of the 21st –century American consumer, I am hyper-sensitive to…what? The negative energy they radiate?

I have never been a “People Person” by any stretch of the imagination. In the earlier days of my customer service career, I learned to fake it pretty well. I knew what decent customer service looked like and sounded like, and I could produce a more than passable imitation. Unfortunately, one of the lessons I learned early on in my restaurant-ownership tenure was that, faced with today’s snotty, demanding, entitled, self-centered customer, my acting ability crumbled like a rice-paper mask. Without a deep, deep well of concern for my fellow human beings, bordering on door-mat-ism, upon which to draw, I failed miserably at providing the kind of service demanded by today’s consuming public. Five years of struggling to rise to a task to which I was woefully, viscerally unsuited left me evidently scarred for eternity.

So, basically, it’s hard for me to go out shopping, or dining, or to attend any event where I might rub elbows with other consumers. I can’t help myself. I tune into the interactions between other people and the service personnel, and I feel an almost overwhelming urge to slug someone. Or scream. Or interject some scathing (uninvited) witticism into the conversation. Which is precisely the kind of rude, thoughtless customer behavior that brought me to this point to begin with.

If I start indulging myself when I’m out in public, I will become precisely the thing I loathe.

Is there a scarier thought in all the world?

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Changing Seasons

This morning I got to indulge in my fair-weather morning ritual for the first time in 2012: I took my coffee out to my greenhouse “deck” (a collection of old warehouse pallets covered with wood scraps) and let the morning sun revitalize my vitamin D-starved self from the outside while the coffee did its work from the inside.

Oh, we had plenty of sunny mornings in December and January—our normally soggy winter did not kick into gear in earnest until last month. But by the beginning of December the sun has traveled so far south and is so low on the horizon that even if its rays reached my outdoor “morning room,” it would not provide enough BTU’s to ward off the frostbite. So that ritual is put on hold until such time as the air temp, the angle of the sun and a fortuitous interruption of the waterworks can result in the magical combination. Spring is (almost) here! What better harbinger of better weather days ahead?

I have to wonder what the summer will bring this year. We are only committed to doing two events with the concession business this coming season: Our beloved Scandinavian Festivals. Hardly enough industry to keep me busy the entire summer. Back in the pre-café days, I would start paging through gardening magazines and plant books by about mid-December. I had to give all that up when we owned the restaurant (one of the many things I gave up for THE thing; and in the end, wish I hadn’t…) Though I had the time this year to re-institute this habit, it seems I am out of practice.

I’m only just now looking out over the tangle of dead leaves, snow-damaged branches and sad-looking vegetation with an eye toward doing something about it all. There is much to do, and really no money to throw at it. Whatever I take on will have to involve more of an investment of time and sweat equity than funds. With gasoline on its way past $4 per gallon, the prices of everything will continue to rise, added to the increased cost of going forth from this god-forsaken little berg to acquire said “everything.” It’s depressing; it turns the unfettered delight of gardening into a balancing act between what would be beautiful and wonderful and what is fiscally feasible. A thing in which I used to revel has been taken from the realm of “joy” and tossed into the “job” inbox. And we all know how attracted I am to anything that is labeled a “job,” these days. Sigh!

Well, I have to go over the hill and get some grout to complete the little home improvement project I’ve been working on for the past couple of weeks. (Honestly…I’m redoing a 2’ x 5’ square of hearth, and you’d think I’d taken on the Sistine Chapel restoration for as much time and angst as I’ve invested in it…) So while I’m out and about, I’ll maybe stop in at some nurseries to see if I can get inspiration for my outdoor challenges. It’s a beautiful day, and supposed to be more beautiful tomorrow. Maybe two days of warmth and sun will get soften my thick skull enough to let in some fresh ideas.