#metoo · truth · uncertainty

Benign #MeToo: Driver’s Ed

9.24.18

 

In the wake of debate, ongoing and maddening, about how women and girls “should” behave in dodgy situations, I’ve been remembering one of the least dramatic of my own #MeToo moments, one I’ve never shared with anyone until now.

The year would have been 1997 and I’d have been somewhere between sophomore and junior year in high school.  Being young for my class, there weren’t many kids who hadn’t already been liberated by their parents’ borrowed 4 wheels.  I was still 15, training to get my driver’s permit in the Fall when I’d turn 16.

The remembered image of my driver’s ed instructor is of a 40something year-old man, maybe pale haired and balding, maybe with a paunch and a cheap button-down shirt.  But, really, I don’t remember altogether what he looks like.

I do remember when I was in his car with two sets of brake and gas pedals—one on the driver’s side where I was sitting and one on the passenger side where he sat—that as we approached a gas station pump, I got panicky and began to press the gas pedal so we accelerated toward the pump!  He slammed hard on his own brake pedal and I finally remembered which foot did what.

He also had a system where he said that he could tell when lights were about to turn red.  That there was a moment when a yellow light turned a little orange, so you could time whether to accelerate through the intersection or eat the light.  As we drove around my small suburban town, he would make predictions about stoplights. …

Sometime on this particular day when I was learning how to drive, he said that he needed to stop at home for something.

While unplanned for our route, I said okay because it didn’t seem to make much difference.  It took a long highway to get there, I remember.  I drove the car into the parking lot of this subdivision, probably rental units, pale beige siding with blue trim.  And as far as my memory goes, he said it would only take a minute and to come inside with him.

So I did.  What I remember of the inside of the apartment was again pale beige walls and carpet and window-height venetian blinds of the kind you’d find in cheap condos or rentals.

He told me to sit, that he’d be right back.  I seem to recall I was on a sofa.

It was at this moment that a woman (dirty blond hair, white button-down) let herself into the apartment.  She seemed quite surprised to see me there and the man who was apparently her husband came back into the room, also surprised and perhaps flustered.

He pointed at me, arm extended, “She had to go to the bathroom.”

The wife nodded quizzically, and the man and I left back into the car with two sets of brake and gas pedals.

Now, it would be simple to label this story entirely benign, except for the fact of the lie. The mixed stories.  He’d told me he needed something from his house.  He told his wife I needed to use the bathroom (which I hadn’t and did not use while there).

What to make of this disparity?  Was there something nefarious here?

It’s impossible to know, except that this memory has stuck with me for 20 years as not quite smelling right.  It has never felt clear enough to share, its heinous nature never obvious enough or easy enough to articulate.

So, what did I do?  Nothing.  I got back in the car and drove back to school with this balding 40-something man.  Nothing more “happened,” nothing else went weird.

Was it a #MeToo moment?  What could have been the motivation of a man during his work hours to invite a 15-year old girl into his home several miles away and then lie about why we were there?  Were there other girls he made “swing past” his house?  Were there other times when the wife didn’t walk in at just that moment?

While my catalogue of #MeToo moments later plunges into the black-and-white of rape and assault, it’s this one here sitting right at the edge of gray that niggles at me.  The other experiences are clear and obvious, and have been processed with the right people.

But when it’s like this, when it’s unclear whether there was a monster teaching driver’s ed to scores of young people in suburban New Jersey in the late ’90s, that I feel most unnerved.

“Caution, Student Driver.”

 

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deprivation · fulfillment · truth

What are you hungry for?

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This month marks 5 years from my final chemo treatment for Leukemia, meaning this month also marks the 1st month when I can stop counting months!  To explain, the general thinking around cancer survivorship is that if you last for 5 years after treatment without a recurrence, then you become as healthy as the next person (assuming that person is healthy).  The Sword of Damacles that hangs above the survivor’s head begins to fade and vanish (assuming you let it).

But what strikes me today is the following question: What am I doing with the life that I fought so incredibly hard to keep living?

A brush with death (or a defensive line-backer’s full-frontal gory smash-up with death) will bring anyone to question what it is they want out of life.  And so, when I am now listening to Oprah and Deepak’s new 21-day meditation challenge about “Hunger,” and they ask me what am I truly hungering for … well, I better have a good answer!

While I am extremely lucky enough to not have a (permanently) unbalanced relationship with overeating (or undereating), I do have an unhealthy relationship with my couch.  It’s the lover I can’t leave, the fuzziest, comfiest and thread-bariest socks I still wear, it’s the oblivion I crave.  I love my couch.  I love the sunshine streaming over it in the afternoons after work, I love the smooshy feeling of cuddling beneath the blankets, and especially the rich middle of a book I like.  (I like the middle best.)

But.  I’ve fought the demons of Hell and my own blood cells to earn the right to lay on that couch — is this truly what I fought for?  Well, no.  Somewhat, but not entirely.

Oprah asks, What am I really hungry for?  What is it that I’m trying to attain by saturating myself with words?  What comfort or distraction?

Several years ago, near about the time I moved to San Francisco from New Jersey, I was laboring on some inner work that was raising extreme discomfort within me.  I was renting a room in a house owned by a lady who worked for a hotel chain, and she would bring home any leftovers from the “continental breakfast” they served there.  This included fruit, yogurt… and muffins.  Hordes of muffins.

I would huddle in my room, writing for 20 minutes, then step out into the hallway, pad down to the fridge, and grab a muffin.  Just one.  I’d pad back to my room and keep writing.  20 minutes later, I’d open my bedroom door again.  The fridge door again.  And on, until all the muffins were gone.  Just one more.

I was so uncomfortable.  When I recounted this discomfiting activity to my therapist at the time, she wisely asked, “If you weren’t eating, what would you be doing?”  I immediately replied, “Crying,” and thusly broke down into wracking sobs.

The writing piece ended soon enough, and so did the compulsive muffin-eating, but the question remains here:  If I weren’t reading, what would I be doing? 

Adventuring.

 

growth · scarcity · truth

I’m a teacher, so…

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I spoke this quasi-sentence on the phone Monday when talking with a potential couples’ therapist.  She and I were getting to the brass tacks portion of the conversation, settling in on the, “How much is this gonna run me” dialogue, and I offered up that half-phrase.

“I’m a teacher, so…”

What implications are in that sentence?!  I am underpaid; I don’t have any money; I cannot afford your full fee; I cannot afford even close to your full fee; I am in a profession in which I will never afford your full fee; I am poorly paid; I am undervalued.

Oh, honestly.

Whose “fault” is this? Well, surely, I could say it’s the “system’s” fault, it’s America’s fault, I could even say it’s the president’s fault.  And while each of those might have grains of truth, there is no honor in blame of others.

To be clear, a) it’s my “fault” I’m a teacher, and b) I’m manipulating the codified undervaluing of our country’s education system to seem poor and weak and un-robust so that I can get a deal on something.

I realized in recounting this later, that this is such an “underbeing” phrase! How can I stand in one breath and tout the munificence of the Universe AND ALSO pervert the archetype of the broke teacher to my benefit?

Maybe you have your own version of the above sentence?  I’ve certainly said iterations of the same: “I work in nonprofits, so…” “I’m a student, so…” “I’m in the arts, so…”

I don’t enjoy realizing that I’ve capitalized upon the pity, or generosity, of my fellows to cajole a few dollars out of them, but I do appreciate learning that my understanding of my profession as an “underearning” one lurks beneath my thoughts, as does the notion that I need to depend upon others’ pity to have what I want in life.

It will be up to me to change the thoughts, or to change my profession (which I don’t wish to happen any time soon), or to increase my income in alternate ways.  In any case, using my “pain” to foster empathy in others is a low (and borrowed) form of power, and I vow to give it up, even a day at a time.

 

 

 

deprivation · fear · joy · recovery · self-love · truth

Getting the F*ck off my Knees.

On Friday night at 10 minutes to midnight sitting in my parked car outside my apartment building, I was scrolling through Facebook on my phone.  I usually do this as a ‘before getting out of my car at the end of the night’ ritual.  I don’t know why.  Like I’m getting a few minutes’ alone time before I go into the house… but I live alone… with a cat. … so…  In any case, I came across a post about that evening’s blue moon, looked quickly at the clock and exclaimed, “Shit!”

I shut off my phone, dashed out of the car up to my apartment.  I took off my heels, slipped on flats, grabbed my loaner tambourine and climbed excitedly and nervously up the stairs to the rooftop of my building.

Pushing open the door, I saw before me a whitewashed roof with long pipes and what look like abandoned solar panels.  Dropping my keys by the door, I carried my tambourine to the center of the rooftop, shielding myself slightly from the view of neighboring buildings, and turned around to see the full, audacious moon before me. Then, I began to jangle the tambourine, and finally I began to sing.

…uh, what?

As I’ve come to the part of my recovery/internal work where we are instructed to “Humbly ask God to remove our shortcomings,” my mentor asked me how I’d done this step in the past. I told her I usually get on my knees and say some kind of prayer.

“Get the fuck off your knees!” she replied emphatically.

You see, I have a habit of being small.  Of minimizing myself, diminishing myself, down playing and ignoring my own needs out of fear and, mostly now, out of long-grooved practice.  This habit of deprivation and hiding causes many problems in my life, mostly because I am surely aware that I am not “meant” to be a mouse.

Being a mouse, though, often looks like me withholding my truths, not admitting what I really want from others and from myself and from life.  Things like. … I want to get married.  *gasp!*  It was near torture to say this aloud to her when we were discussing truths I never tell anyone.  It feels embarrassing to say it.  To feel it.  To want it. “I’m a modern woman, proud brave able! What a simpering, waif-like desire to have!,” goes my internal monologue.  And I wither to admit it to anyone else.

My mentor and I spoke at length that day, and she finally suggest-/insist-ed that I get a tambourine, dress up in something exciting and shout this truth, and all my others, to the heavens.

*Gulp*

So on Friday morning, two weeks after this suggestion, I finally obtained a borrowed tambourine (you’d be surprised how few there are around!).  I texted my mentor that tonight was the night!  And then I read online that it was also going to be a full moon, a blue moon in fact. This seemed most auspicious.  (For a woo-woo hippie shit chick like myself!)

The evening found me on the roof of my apartment building, fresh from a salsa lesson/live music dance in the city, in a hot dress and pulsing with feminine wiles, furtively tapping this noisemaker in my hand, trying not to feel embarrassed.

And then I began to sing.

I started softly and whirled myself into a crescendo, abandoning decorum, delighting in the jangle and thrill of the truth.  Gyrating, gesticulating, twirling around the rooftop, I sang loudly all the secret desires of my soul and my heart, echoing a refrain of, “I let go of being small!” and hammering wildly on the tambourine, an elegant, alight grin streaked across my face as I hopped lightly over the pipes, spinning around the roof until all my heart’s desires, all my tiny wishes I’m too ashamed to speak, had poured out of my throat and into the moonlit darkness.

Laughing, giddy, adrenalized, I headed back to the entrance door, calling brazenly to the bulbous moon: “Peace out, Blue Moon.”

deprivation · need · recovery · self-denial · truth · wholeness

Buying Desire a Hat.

I was at my therapist’s once several years ago now and we
were talking about my closest friendships. 
I was telling her how I was scared to admit my full self to someone
because I feared that my full self, my full array of needs and personality,
would be too much for them to handle.  I
explained to her that I felt like my needs were like a tidal wave, that letting
them out would be releasing one, and I couldn’t do that to any one person.  Or to any several people.  Better to keep it all locked up tight.
But what if I begin to think of my needs and desires not
as a tidal wave, but as held by a man-made dam? 
A dam has immense strength and power; the pressure behind it is exponential.  The
power there, the pressure, comes from the restriction of motion, from the
forcible and intentional holding back of something that had previously flown
free.
You can see where I’m going with this, no?  I’m no expert in engineering, so I don’t know
how one goes about dismantling a dam—and maybe for the purposes of my own
internal metaphoric dismantling, that might be interesting to learn—but
I do know that once the dam has been removed and the water again flows free,
it’s not a potential tidal wave of need anymore.  Now it’s just the normal, everyday flow.  The normal, everyday rise and fall of desire.
Without the restriction and denial of qualities such as
desire and need, they are free to be absorbed into the landscape, a part of the
whole, neither something to be feared or ignored. 
Desire in our culture has a pretty bad rap of it.  Desire, the seat of sin.  And yet, what is it but simply an expression
of self, like humor or wit?  My mentor
and I have been discussing and prodding at my relationship to my own need and
desire, to try to bring them out of the haunting shadows, to not treat them like
the disturbed family members you try to forget you have, til they show up on
your doorstep at Christmas with soggy string bean casserole.
What if, instead, they were invited guests?  Do I even know anything about what and who
they are, after being so keen to shut them out for so long?  Or do I only now know the legend of them,
instead of the qualities themselves?
There is a bit of terror and a bit of awe as I begin to
reintroduce myself to these qualities of self. 
As a person who is so adept at self-denial and deprivation, to allow
that there might be a proper place for need in my life is… incomprehensible.  Like someone who’s
been on a Paleo diet for years, touting the benefits, trying to recruit
converts, suddenly being told that in order to live they must eat cake.  Because not only will it change their entire
metabolism for the better, but, hey, it’s fucking delicious.  And you’re allowed to enjoy it.
Permission to be allowed to enjoy.  Permission to be allowed to want.  Permission to be allowed to need.  And actually, screw the whole permission
thing – it’s not that at all.  It’s not a
choice.  Or an earned prize.  It’s a basic human right. 
To deny yourself a basic human right, like having chosen to
drink fetid water your whole life because you’ve somehow made yourself believe pure spring
water wasn’t for you or that your imbibing it was a danger to the balance of existence… well,
self-denial like that causes a whole host of problems, not least of which is
unfulfillment.

So, the dismantling, the right-sizing of desire and need,
the introduction to them as they are, not as I’ve feared them to be.  And why? 
Because I have a suspicion that fulfillment, purpose, and wholeness are
on the other side of that shift.

authenticity · fear · truth

“Then that happened…”

This is what I said to my friend after I broke down on Friday night with the truth of how lost I’d been feeling. 
She said to me, You can’t do that. You can’t say something like what you shared, and then cover it up with a joke like it wasn’t important or true. 
And that’s what I want to do with today’s blog. I want to try to stem some of whatever reactions I believe you might have had to yesterday’s blog of anger and fear and isolation. Because no matter how I feel in a moment, I do need you greatly, and I want you to still like me and not to think that I’m a whiny, privileged person who’s lost perspective on the world. 
So, I’m going to try not to do that, to reverse any effects of what I said yesterday. And simply let it lie. 
I do know that my job is not scooping animal carcasses off the highway, or cleaning toilets, or any other job that many people have. I have friends who’ve lost children, husbands, gone bankrupt. I mean, I work at a high-end retailer in Union Square, not on a chain gang. And I’m going through cancer survivorship stuff, like I imagine and hope those of us who have to, do. 
I know, too, that in times like these, we all seem to lose some perspective, and I allow myself to have that for now, because I do know it will change. 
But, I guess I did need (or want) to put how I’ve been feeling out there, even in this impersonal forum, because it is the truth, and that’s what I tell here — with or without back-peddling. 

So, whatever reactions you might have had (because I can see from the stats page that many people did read that blog), I hope … well, I hope it’s okay I put the truth there. And I’m trying to let myself be okay with it, too.
“You can’t save your face and your ass at the same time.”
anger · community · isolation · recovery · trauma · truth · uncertainty

The Look-Good.

I was with a group of close friends on Friday night, celebrating one of their “not getting drunk and sleeping with strangers” anniversaries. These are women I’ve known for nearly my whole 8 years of not doing the same, and who know me and have seen me through my best and worst. 
And I couldn’t tell them the truth. 
It wasn’t until the assembled group was about to close that I got up, walked to the podium at the front of the room and said, “This is the place you’re supposed to tell the hard things. And, things are really bad.”
I began to sob. I eeked out that 5 months ago, I burned my life down, and I’m exhausted and isolated. I told the group that I realized I had to say something when, tonight, I couldn’t hold eye contact with my friends over our dinner. That the closest women I have in my life, I couldn’t look at for too long, because if I did… they would see… and I would break down crying. 
And I didn’t want to do that. 
Because it doesn’t feel like there’s anything to do. So, why talk about it?
I told them about being an expert at looking good on the outside, and feeling like dog shit on the inside. Now, the thing about the “look good” is that, sure, who doesn’t want to look good? Especially when you are feeling crappy, sometimes it’s nice to say, Well, at least I can still pull myself together. At least I can assemble an outfit, put on a little makeup, and … look good. 
However, the other thing about the “look good” is that generally, if you look good, people assume you feel good. And that’s part of the guise of it, of course; that’s part of its purpose… is to fool people. Because if no one asks, you don’t have to tell. 
It’s a pretty little prison we wrap ourselves up in, in an effort to try to do it alone. Because, again, what else is there to do?
In my case, I’m going on interviews, auditions, tours of school, taking tests, ordering physics books. I’m going about the wildest flurry of activity, the other day, I called it a blizzard. 
All this manic pushing to get out of my current situation that I feel ashamed I got into again. Molly, quitting another job without a plan. Molly, struggling to find work, again. Molly looking into a hundred different career paths, and feeling like a strung-out shell of a person through it all. 
Because, as I said earlier: Things are really bad. 
There’s a lot of crying, a lot of hopelessness, a lot of just trying to make it through these extended, exhausting retail days. 
A co-worker I’ve been sharing some of my, “Someone get me out of here” activities with said yesterday that shouldn’t this (the retail job) feel laughable in comparison to what I’ve been through? (She knows about the cancer.) And I said, No. 
Instead, it feels like, “Haven’t I been through enough that I shouldn’t have to deal with this fucking bullshit?” That’s how it feels. 
It feels like I push and try and explore and push and try and explore, and nothing moves. 
I feel like the hamster on the wheel, working so fucking hard, and getting no where. 
I will say that this new idea to pursue teaching feels like the first thing that makes real and doable sense in all my career lily-pad hopping. So, that feels like a win, and progress, and hope. 
And in the center of that remains the fact that my feet and legs ache, right now, I’m earning half what I did when I was at my office job, I have a dwindling savings account that was really fucking hard-earned, and I have no back-up.
So. What? Why do you talk to anyone about that anyway? No one really has anything to tell you of use, except, “We love you and you’ll get through this.” … And take that to the bank. 
But, no. It’s fabulous that I have people around me, and I know there’s something to telling the truth, and so I did. When I realized I couldn’t look my best friends in the eye for fear they might see the truth of what’s happening beyond the “look good,” it was time to say something. (Though, perhaps earlier could have been better, too.)
Did they particularly have anything that shorn through the bleakness in which I find myself, again? Not really. No magic bullets. No words of enlightenment. Just simple suggestions like, Go to a meeting everyday with people who actually know you, and share about this. 
And so, I am. 
I hate it. I feel vulnerable, and I want everybody to not talk to me about it afterward — but there’s no controlling people. 
Because here’s the undercurrent of all this surface nonsense, all this struggle to stay and get afloat and to try to believe that things will change and get better if I keep doing “the next right thing,” that life will even out, that I’ll be okay…: 


The undercurrent is: I. Don’t. Know. That. (None of us do, surely.)


But, specifically, I’m talking cancer. I have a lot of cancer grief to go through, and I don’t know how. 
Partly I don’t talk about it because I feel it’s so dramatic to talk about, because I’m scared people will roll their eyes, and think, “Sheesh, enough with the cancer already; you lived, didn’t you? Move on!” 
I don’t know how to share with people about how angry, betrayed, and every day still terrified — with every cough, or sleepless night, or strange headache — about a recurrence I feel. 
I don’t know how to begin to put faith back into a universe and a universal law that arbitrarily may decide to kill you “just cuz.” How to “come to believe that a power greater than ourselves can restore us to wholeness” when everything solid was ripped from under me in an instant. 
And that’s what I’m being asked to do. I’m at the point, again, where I’m supposed to contemplate my idea of a “higher power,” and I want everybody to take their, “It’s the cycle of life and death,” it’s love, it’s community, and shove it with red hot poker down their own throats. 
Because: Fuck. You. (non-cancer having people, she mumbles mentally.)
I am going at all this activity pretty much on my own, without the guidance and space of meditation, without a wisp of a belief in the goodness of the world, or in the belief that efforts bring results. 
And it’s really hurting me. 
There’s a lot of work I’m going to have to do on this, and I feel SO TIRED. I’m so tired. Have you fought cancer and then had to go about the daily business of living, getting parking tickets and paying bills you can’t afford? And are you now being asked to reconcile that traumatizing experience with a belief in goodness or constancy in the universe in order to stay sober and not kill yourself?
Few of us have. And I don’t know how to do it, because I don’t know who to turn to. 
And so, I’m doing this — or have been trying to do this — all alone, in many ways. Sure, I’m reaching out, and the shell of isolation is cracking, and I imagine “good” things will come of it. But for now, I’m just so tired. 
So that’s what’s beyond the “Look-Good,” friends. It’s not pretty, or happy, or palatable for many, including myself. It’s sad and raw and real and really fucking painful to be where I am right now. 
And… if one of you tells me “this too shall pass” or “everybody dies sometime,” i’ll shove an iron through your cranium.

(Because it is small comfort, even though it’s true.)