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Friday, October 31, 2014

Sorry Sadie Hawkins

I’m super excited to have been invited to join a blog group alongside three talented bloggers.  Each week, one of us chooses a topic and we all post a blog entry on that topic, usually on Thursdays.   

Here are the links to the other fabulous blogs:

Froggie chose this week’s topic:  Feminism.

            I’ve never liked the word feminism.  It confuses me.  I’ve never even known what it means.  I looked it up, and Wikipedia defines feminism as “a collection of movements and ideologies aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, cultural, and social rights for women.  This includes seeking to establish equal opportunities for women in education and employment.”

            I grew up in what many consider the heyday of the “women’s rights” movement, and I spent my early years watching ERA rallies on television.  I have vague recollections of watching busy haired Gloria Steinem on the news, and I know many of the words to Helen Reddy’s I Am Woman.  I watched perfume commercials about bringing home the bacon, frying it up in a pan, and never, ever letting some guy forget he’s a man.  You might think that would have affected me somehow, pushed me down the feminist path, but it didn’t.  I was too young to understand.  And I could not stand the sound of Ms. Reddy’s voice.  Or the smell of Enjoli perfume.

            But more than that, I simply did not feel “inferior” or in need of equality.  Which is a bit astounding, given the world in which I was raised.  My parents embraced traditional roles:  my Dad worked two jobs so my Mom could stay home and raise my sister and me.  Mom cooked and cleaned and shopped, using the money my Dad gave her each week.  My Mom didn’t even drive a car, having never learned.  My Dad hadn’t wanted her to, and she concurred.  At my Catholic school, girls and boys were treated rather equally, except girls had to wear skirts and boys got to be altar boys.  Perhaps I didn’t care enough to feel these inequalities were oppressive.  More likely, I was too young and too distracted to weigh these things in any meaningful way. 

            Later, when I could understand equal pay for equal work, etc., I still opted not to embrace feminism as such.  I believed the best way to fix a broken system was from within, and so if I wanted change, I believed I needed to become part of the system to facilitate that change.  For my second career, I chose one dominated by men:  the law.  Law school enrollment was creeping up near the 50/50 mark when I started, but it wasn’t quite there.  My professors were overwhelmingly male (though, ironically, one of my professors was Catherine MacKinnon, a well-known feminist).  Law school felt even and fair, at least so far as gender – and even though I completed law school while taking care of a young child.  But the actual practice of law proved, indeed, to be a man’s world.  For every one female judge, I faced fifteen or twenty males.  In the overcrowded Daley Center elevators, I was usually the only female attorney (though female office staff abounded).  At the last firm at which I worked, no women has ever made partner.  Ever.  Misogyny runs rampant in the law, and believe no male who tells you differently.  Women are seen as “less than,” even the most brilliant.  Hell, when I was interviewing for jobs after graduation, I was told – more than once – to wear a suit with a skirt and not trousers.  Nice, huh?

            And yet, still, I feel no pull toward feminism.  Instead, my fellow female counselors and I learned to use our “weaker gender” status to our advantage.  I have been condescended to many, many times.  I have former female associates who have been treated like children or, worse, like Barbie dolls.  I’ve been called, “Honey” – by a judge.  I’ve been flirted with and underestimated.  And I say, bring it on.  Because, truly, there is nothing better than stepping from a place of perceived weakness and raining holy legal hell on my opponent, who never saw it coming.  My opponent’s flawed perception of me doesn’t hurt me, not at all.  I know my worth, both as an attorney and as a woman.  And the longer I step up and fight back, within the system, the sooner that change toward equality will be effected. 

            Do I think women deserve equal pay for equal work?  Of course, and I can see that happening in my lifetime.  But I understand male resistance to this doctrine.  After all, women can do everything a man can do, but that doesn’t work both ways.  Men cannot birth children (not yet, anyway); moreover, although many males choose to stay home and raise their children while their wives work, this role reversal is hardly completely embraced by society.  For these reasons alone, many men cling to the “traditional” roles foisted upon them.  In that way, women are at an advantage, as society no longer thinks twice about a woman who chooses a career – indeed, we raise our girls to make such a choice – and we are equally supportive of those women who opt to stay home.  The ball field is a little murkier for women who attempt to juggle both, and perhaps that is the cost of “feminism.”  Having it “all” – be us male or female – comes at a price, not because of gender, but because there are only 24 hours in a day.

            For my own children, all girls, I will support whichever road they choose:  career, stay-at-home parent, a combo.  I do hope they will take the time to learn a skill, just to have something to fall back on because life is unpredictable and it isn’t always wise to depend on one’s spouse in the way my Mom has done.  What matters to me is that my daughters know they are equal to men, regardless of what society tells them, regardless of any judge who calls them “Honey.”  Go ahead, girls:  Roar!

Bonus content:  One of the worse commercials ever made:  Enjoli

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Ghost in My Machine

I’m super excited to have been invited to join a blog group alongside three talented bloggers.  Each week, one of us chooses a topic and we all post a blog entry on that topic, usually on Thursdays.   

Here are the links to the other fabulous blogs:

            It’s my turn this week, and I asked my co-bloggers to write about:  Ghosts.           

            My vagueness was purposeful, as ghosts can suggest myriad things other than a supernatural being:  a memory, a lost chance, some event or person that just haunts you.  I was curious which path my fellow bloggers would choose, what ghosts “haunt” them.

            But I?  Am going with the classic, spooky, Halloween kind of specter.

            I kind of believe in ghosts.  I qualify this because I don’t really believe in an afterlife.  Or, I should say, I don’t know whether there is an afterlife, but I’ve no supporting evidence, which makes me tend not to believe.  And, yet, I believe in ghosts.  I know my logic is totally flawed – and this kills me, because I’m wired to be logical (thank you law school).  But I have an excuse:  I blame my confusion on the fact that, when I was a kid, my parents’ house was haunted.

            My parents bought the two-story frame bungalow when I was just a year old.  They purchased it from the original owners, one of whom I was told passed away in the home.  This in no way deterred my parents; people regularly died at home back then (hell, my Dad was born at home, on the kitchen table).  When my parents moved into the house, they found remnants of the past owner, a few abandoned items that included a box of old tobacco pipes in the dirt under the back porch.  Non(pipe)smokers, my parents hung the pipes just outside their bedroom for a decorative touch. 

            It was then the weirdness began.

            I was probably about six when we first noticed the noises.  Every night around 8:00, my parents’ bed would squeak as if someone jumped upon it.  At first, I was blamed (of course) – until they realized I was lying on the shag-carpeted living room floor and not jumping on the bed.  We’d check the bedroom, but nothing seemed amiss.  We shrugged; we couldn’t explain it.  It didn’t really weird us out that much, and eventually we just got used to it.  The same was true for the smell of percolating coffee that wafted through the house from time to time.  A lingering scent from breakfast?  Nope.  My parents didn’t own a coffee pot; Mom drank tea, and Dad opted for instant coffee (and even that was rare).  We’d sniff and look at each other and go back to watching TV.  “Must be the ghost,” we’d say, unrattled.  And when we started to smell tobacco pipe smoke, it seemed almost undeniable:  whomever had lived here before had decided to stick around awhile.

            He (I always assumed the ghost a he) was a peaceful ghost, and he never scared us.  We co-existed without incident.  I can’t say the dogs were big fans, and they’d often stop in their tracks, perk up their ears, and stare at something we couldn’t see.  But we accepted the ghost as part of the family, a member of the home.  In a weird way, it was comforting:  a supernatural presence perhaps keeping an eye on things in a way we simply could not.  We were okay with the ghost, and he with us.

            Except my Grandpa.

            My Dad’s parents lived about a mile away, and my Grandpa was a frequent visitor to our home.  He spent the bulk of his visits in the kitchen, sitting at the kitchen table with a cup of tea, a lit Kent, and the Tribune crossword.  My Grandpa was soft-spoken, a true gentleman (his middle name was Generoso, and it fit him well).  And yet, the ghost was not a fan.

            At some point during my childhood, my parents bought a new kitchen clock that hung high up on a wall above the oven.  It was electric, with batteries snapped neatly in the back.  It showed the time and the month, day, and year (pretty cool back then).  One day, Grandpa was standing below the clock, just a few feet over, toward the middle of the small kitchen.  Suddenly, the clock fell from the wall.  Actually, it more “leapt” from the wall, toward my Grandpa.  From what I know of physics, that clock should have fallen straight down onto the counter, but it didn’t.  It kind of shot from the wall, straight at Grandpa’s head. 

            Thankfully, it missed.  My Dad re-hung the unit back on the wall, but it never again kept correct time.  It was always off a few minutes, or even a day.  Eventually, my parents remodeled the kitchen, and cabinets were hung where the clock once stood.  On that same wall, my parents installed a built-in oven, one with a built-in clock.

            And hell if that clock didn’t work.  Ever.  It didn’t try to kill my Grandfather, but it refused to ever tell correct time.  It would work fine, then stop, for days.  We’d reset it, but it was futile.  So we wrote it off to the ghost.

            Eventually, the ghostly sounds and smells went away.  The bed stopped squeaking, the even newer built in oven clock began keeping time.  I assume to ghost is gone, that he left for wherever it is ghosts go when they are done here.  Grandpa is gone, too; he died shortly after I graduated college in 1990.  I miss him, and sometimes I wish he’d haunt me, just so I could see him again.  His “ghost” stays with me.  In my mind, I can still feel his bear hugs.  I can still smell him:  a sweet combination of fresh tobacco and Oil of Olay.  He’d always wanted one of his granddaughters to become a lawyer, and so the night of my law school graduation dinner, I raised a glass to him, wishing he could be there in body, hoping he was truly there in spirit.  I like to think he’s watching over me, which is hard, because I don’t know I really believe it.

            Obviously, I just don’t know what to believe.  So I push the boundaries and test the limits and try to find answers.  A few years ago, a good friend and I went to a psychic.  We were both going through some tumultuous times and we figured, “Why not?”  I’d gotten the referral to this particular psychic from another friend, who’d seen him and who was blown away by what he knew (or seemed to know) about her.

            The experience . . . well, it kind of blew my mind.  I had what is known as a “cold reading,” where all the psychic knew was my first name (in fact, I blocked my work number when I called, and my desk number wasn’t even traceable to my law firm).  We went in mid-December, and I was wearing an almost-casual sweater dress, leggings, and suede boots.  I did not look like a lawyer – but the first thing the psychic said was. “You’re a lawyer.”  He told me amazing things:  I was writing a book (I was).  I have a sister but we look nothing alike because our noses are totally different (I do, we don’t, they are).  He knew one of my daughter’s exact height, among other things he seemed to know about her.  At one point, he gave an exact name of someone in my life then causing a bit of a stir.  I was blown away.  I couldn’t explain it.  I still can’t. 

            But I think about it.  I watch shows like Long Island Medium and The Haunting of . . .  and search for mistakes . . . all the while hoping the ghosts are real.  But I also try to honor the other side:  the doubt, the skepticism.  I absolutely love Penn & Teller, the comedy/magic team known for trying to debunk psychics and mediums and other mystical showmen.  Funny enough, Penn Jillette, the tall, verbal half of the duo, is an outspoken atheist, and I know he’d likely chuckle at my ghost story and completely guffaw at my cold reading (he holds particular contempt for psychics).  But I love Penn, not because he doesn’t believe, but because he instead admits he just doesn’t know.  Ask him whether there is a god, and he says, simply, “I don’t know.”  And he will admit his lack of knowing leaves open the option that anything is possible – he just needs solid proof before he will believe anything is actual.

            I don’t know if ghosts exist.  I don’t know why my parents’ bed creaked, or why we could smell coffee and pipe smoke, or why a clock tried to concuss my beloved Grandpa.  I don’t know why I recently dreamt about an old, long-estranged family friend the night before my Mom called to tell me his obituary was in the newspaper.  And although I’m trained to rely on evidence and logic and actual proof, I’m okay without knowing the answers.  I don’t have to believe one way or another.  I know what I saw and smelled and felt and even dreamt.  I can’t explain it, nor do I need to.  I felt it.  In the moment, it was real, as real as those things in my house that I could touch.

            My fascination with ghosts might be nothing more than simple wishful thinking, the hope that we don’t just disappear when our bodies shut down.  My hope that I’ll see my dear Grandpa one more time, and we will laugh about the time the family ghost tried to knock him out with a kitchen clock, a time when he was tangible, when he could stretch his arms and give me a bear hug, just one more time.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Parlez Vous Bon Jovi?

I’m super excited to have been invited to join a blog group alongside three talented bloggers.  Each week, one of us chooses a topic and we all post a blog entry on that topic, usually on Thursdays.   

Here are the links to the other fabulous blogs:

                  Froggie chose this week’s topic, and she said, simply, “It’s that moment where . . .

                  Many things popped into my head, so I went with the first:  It’s that moment where you realize you will never learn to speak French. 

                  Years ago, for a reason I don’t really remember, I had a burning desire to learn to speak French.  It struck shortly before law school graduation, shortly before my first (and only) trip to Paris.  I was young(er) then, young enough where I could still learn to speak a new language if I really tried.  So I plopped down some cash for a set of Pimsler CDs and played them:  in my room, in my car, whenever I had a few moments.  It probably goes without saying I never exactly became fluent; although I can say “good morning” and “good night,” I was completely lost when I stepped foot off the train in Paris.  I kept the CDs; I figured someday I’d really study and learn the language.

                  But I didn’t.  And now, nearly a decade and a half later, I realize I never will.

                  I’ll never learn to speak French.  Or Italian.  Or Spanish.  I’ll never learn to do Algebra.  Or knit.  Or swim.  I’ll never be rich and/or famous.  I’ll never write a blockbuster movie.  I’ll never argue in front of the U.S. Supreme Court.  I’ll never live in London.  I’ll never visit Monaco or cruise the Mediterranean.  I’ll never have a son or foster a child.  I’ll never marry Jon Bon Jovi.  And he won’t sweep me off to live in a castle in Europe.

                  Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

                  At some point in my life, I imagined doing all of these things.  I wanted these things.  I saw no reason why I couldn’t have or do them.  But now, years later, I know I won’t.  In some cases, my age is the issue; in others, it’s financial (in one, it’s a pesky law against polygamy).  And that’s okay.  It is.  I’ve made peace with these things, even as I realize their absence.

                  Do I still want these things?  Maybe a few.  But I can’t say my life is empty without them.  Because for all the moments I realize I won’t ever learn to speak French, in the moments I realize what I don’t have, there are other moments in which I realize those things I do have that I never expected, never thought to wish for:  the people, the places, the achievements I have that were never on my radar but which now fill the gaps left by those other things.

                  I won’t live in London, but I’ve lived in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Hollywood and Middle Tennessee.  I didn’t wish for those things, but I got them, and they were (and are) good.  I won’t have a son, but I have three daughters, all of whom are amazing and none of whom I’d ever swap out for a son.  (And maybe if I’m lucky, I’ll get a grandson.)  I won’t pen a movie script, but I have written a book – and maybe someday someone will even publish it.  It won’t make me rich and famous, but I have a sneaking suspicion those things are overrated.  (And I like my alone time much too much to ever be recognized wherever I go.)  I have my parents, and they’re healthy; so many of my friends and relatives don’t have that privilege.  I am also healthy, as are my kids; those weren’t on my wish list, but they sure should have been.  They are now. 

                  I’m not upset about the fact I will never learn to speak French.  Would it be cool?  Sure.  Useful?  Meh – not so much.  There are dozens of other ways I’d rather spend my time.  Maybe the reason I’m not upset is my priorities have shifted, and what once seemed important in my teens and twenties no longer seems to matter much.  Maybe I’ve come to realize time is finite and I have less now than I did then – and I’d much rather spend that time with family and friends (or even writing this blog). 

                  Don’t worry; other wishes remain:  to become a published writer; to run my own business; to help my kids grow into responsible, healthy adults; to live in California again; to own a goat (don’t ask).  And, of course, to meet Jon Bon Jovi.

                  But I realize I probably won’t marry him.  Unless he knows how to speak French.

                  Then all bets are off.