Friday, January 20, 2017

Why I march

While most of you slept, my daughter and I boarded a bus for Washington, DC.
We are joining hundreds of thousands of women for the Women's March on Washington, a massive show of solidarity among all marginalized groups and those who support them.
This is not a popular move in our area.
We live in a land of Trump supporters -- good, honest people who want change and who feel Donald Trump is the catalyst we need.
Most do not understand my motivation, especially for bringing our 15-year-old daughter to such an event. They think we are protesting Trump and his election to the presidency, and they don't see the point.
We are not protesting Trump.
This is not a protest.
This is a rally, intentionally planned for the day after the inauguration to help make the message clear. It is intended to raise awareness and show our strength. It is designed to help people bond and to empower them, so that days, months, years after the march, they can draw on this strength and these bonds to create change.
Donald Trump is our president.
The people chose him by the means provided by our Constitution.
This, I accept.
This is democracy.
What I don't accept are the attitudes expressed during his campaign toward women, immigrants, disabled people, Muslims, the LGBT community and people of color. What I fear is that these attitudes will work their way into our system of justice, both civil and criminal. What I want is progress, not regression.
I want to protect our daughter and our three boys, who share our values.
I want them to grow up in a world of tolerance and diversity.
I want to be an example for them.
I want them to see that I am willing to march for what I believe it, that I am not afraid to express myself publicly even when I am surrounded by people who disagree with me. I want them to see that I am trying.
I want our daughter to feel empowered, too.
Like any event of this sort, the Women's March on Washington will draw people with their own agendas. Those who fear what we embrace will narrow in on such individuals and hold them up as examples of why this march is so wrong.
Please don't do that.
Please know that most of us are marching for the country we love, the country you love.
Please remember that this is me, your neighbor and friend, that I love and respect you regardless of your politics. Please try to keep an open mind and I promise I will, too.
Something is wrong in America, and the majority of Americans believe Donald Trump has the skills and the leadership ability to fix it.
I hope he does.
I hope that his attitudes toward women, people of color, immigrants, Muslims, disabled people, the LGBT community and other marginalized groups were lies, that he threw them out there to pull in votes from certain vulgar segments of the population, people who believe the Constitution applies only to those who are like them.
I hope that he will take us forward not backward.
I hope that he will listen, not ridicule, when we march, and I hope that you will do the same.
Let us be heard.
Let us roar over the voices of hate and intolerance.
Let us march.

  

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Rest in peace, Keegan

A friend posted on my Facebook news feed yesterday that addiction is a choice, unlike other diseases.
I fought hard to control my anger.
She couldn't have known that just an hour earlier, my brother had called to say his son had died -- his sweet, intelligent, good-hearted son.
Keegan did not choose addiction anymore so than others choose heart disease, or diabetes, or epilepsy or other diseases or conditions. He was born with it. It runs in the family. It is, truly, honestly, sadly, a disease.
Nor did he choose to die at the age of 30.
Why would he?
He had everything to live for and he wanted, so badly, to live.
He tried.
Hard.
He sought treatment beginning at age 15 when he showed his parents the whiskey bottle he'd been drinking from daily. He asked for help and they gave it to him time and time again, with no regard ever for the financial and psychological cost to the rest of the family.
They were there through every Code Blue (and there were many) in the emergency room, through every rehab stint, through every halfway house stay. They stayed even when the therapist said it was best to give up on him and forget he existed.
They loved him.
Over the years, alcohol, opioids, gambling, all kinds of addictions fought for control over him because that's the way addiction behaves. It isn't particular and it is incredibly selfish. It wants everything from its victims.
It is cruel.
We like to portray addicts as losers. It's safer that way, to draw a line between us and them, to believe that it can't happen to us because we are way too smart for that. We like to believe it is a choice and that we and the people we love won't become addicts because we're not stupid enough to make that choice.
Keegan was not stupid.
He was highly intelligent. He did well in high school and in college. He held patents from a major food company at a young age. He earned a master's degree between stints in some of the most highly rated rehab facilities in the country.
I'm sorry, but you are not safe.
Your children are not safe.
No one is safe.
No one will be safe until we remove the shame, the stigma from addiction.
So think before you post.
Think before you degrade and judge.
Just think.
Rest in peace, Keegan.

Monday, October 17, 2016

For my young friend who was berated by her peers

A friend's sixth-grade daughter posted on Facebook yesterday that other girls had made fun of her Halloween costume. Her words were heavy with devastation. This was clearly not the first time she'd been made to feel inferior by her peers.
I didn't respond because I knew a back-patting sentence or two wouldn't be enough.
What I wanted to do was hold up a mirror. Let her see how gorgeous she is inside and out without a social filter. And then I wanted to take her up into the sky. I wanted to draw a circle around our little area from above and show her how insignificant we are when compared to the rest of the world.
How insignificant these people are who think they have a right to define her.
I wanted to show her that elsewhere, that deep, red hair of hers is highly valued as something people can't buy in a bottle or create in a salon. I wanted her to see how infectious her smile can be, how many people will find joy in it when she exposes herself to the rest of the world.
I wanted her to understand that small towns can be safe, comfortable, wonderful places to grow up, but that they can also be deceiving. They can make people feel as if they are trapped within identities, identities that are not of their choosing, identities created by the insecurities of others who have claimed high places in tiny castles, building walls around themselves to keep threats like her out.
In small towns, there is nowhere else to seek confirmation that different is good.
The pool of potential friends is finite.
People are often stuck within regional influences and made to believe those influences are universal, that these identities are inescapable. They are led to believe that they created those identities because they are flawed as people.
Those who never leave might never learn the truth.
Those who leave and come back are often shocked by their own complacency.
I know because I experienced that shock and I want her to do the same.
I grew up in Saranac Lake, NY, a beautiful community in the Adirondacks, a place I love to this day. My class was larger than this girl's with about 130 students and I was fortunate in that even the most popular girls were relatively nice, at least to me.
I am told our class was unusual in that sense.
Still, a small group of boys and girls ruled. They were the starters on sports teams. They were the members of the Winter Carnival Court. They were the stars of the dating scene. They went to most every prom and could get away with most anything.
I accepted my place.
I believed I was simply not good enough.
Until I moved to Florida.
I was already at a low point when my mother announced she was leaving. I had failed to make the final cut for basketball, which meant I would hardly see some of my closest friends all winter. My family was falling apart and we were broke. I had only two pairs of jeans to my name and five or six tops, but I refused to shop in thrift shops because the popular cliche did not.
I feared they would find out and my status would worsen.
I had nothing to lose, in my opinion.
So I left.
No one knew me in Florida. No one knew my family. Their only option was to test the waters and  find out who I was, whether I was worthy of their attentions. I was shocked to learn that I was indeed worthy, that Emma, Beth, Amy, Lance and Mike all were drawn to me because I was me.
I was surprised that my teachers found me worth their investments because they saw what my mind could do, not what my siblings did before me. I was stunned to learn that other people's parents liked me for who I was, not for who my parents were or were not.
My social issues back home were of my own making.
It was lack of confidence that made me feel inferior, lack of experience beyond my small-town realm. Certain people fueled that lack of confidence, but only because I was naive to my own worth. I let them.
I returned to Saranac Lake after five months because I missed it. I missed school, I missed my friends and I knew I wanted to attended college where the climate was more to my liking.  But I returned as a different person.
Yes, I still had problems. Lots of them.
But social confidence was not one of them.
I couldn't change the culture in my school, but I found I lacked the desire to do so. I no longer shared the values of the elite because I knew how truly absurd and insignificant those values were. I discovered I could be friends with anyone because I no longer envied them or feared judgment. I also learned to cherish the friends I had even more.
Greater trials awaited me as I dealt with a fractured family and feelings of abandonment by both parents. That lead to a different kind of insecurity. But my new-found social confidence provided a core strength that pulled me through.
There are benefits to a small-school culture that are invaluable. We chose this for our children over city living for many excellent reasons. Our older children, who have experienced both cultures, have said they would never choose to go back.
This girl has a long ways to go. Six more years. But those years can be great years if she can find that confidence, if she can learn to elevate herself above her own insecurities and love herself so much that no else will be able to define her.
She has a family that loves her fiercely and so many others who love and appreciate her. She is worthy, much more so than she believes, and I'm willing to bet her costume was awesome. All of that is easy for me to see and say as a 50-year-old though.
I know her road will be hard and I want so badly to pave it for her.
To make it smooth.
I want to do that for my own children as well.
But I can't.
No adult can.
That kind of perspective can only come from within.
The best we can do is to constantly expose them to difference and to our love, and hope they figure it out.




Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The incurable itch

A high school senior told me recently she intends to pursue creative writing in college. I mentioned this to her father, who sighed.
He is trying to talking her into something else, he said.
Something more practical with more job opportunities.
Good luck.
I was that girl.
I fought it.
I lost.
The forces of my childhood pointed me toward a career in writing.
I won a local poetry contest in elementary school. I wrote radio commercials for our small, always-broke Catholic school. I wrote short stories for a short-lived junior high school publication.
Writing was my therapy when I sensed trouble between my parents, when my parents finally separated and when they later divorced.
(Okay, writing and alcohol, if I must be honest.)
But I'd grown up with no money and I wasn't about to grow into the same situation.
I didn't even consider majoring in English or creative writing.
Instead, I chose geochemistry when I enrolled at SUNY-Oswego. I loved rocks. I loved chemistry. I was strong in math and science. I could work for an oil company like my cousins. It made sense.
Until I took the first course and realized it was (gasp) work!
At a loss for a major, I enrolled in an interpersonal communications class because I wanted to become more confident. At the same time, I registered for a fiction writing workshop just for fun. An elective, I told myself.
Even as I grew more interested in interpersonal communications and declared it my major, I continued taking classes in creative writing through the English department: ficton, poetry, journalism.
Why not take a few literature courses as well, I thought.
I even enrolled in summer sessions so I could take more classes in both fields.
I told myself my involvement in the college newspaper -- first as a writer, and then as an editor -- was simply communications-related. Same with my internship at a Pennsylvania television station.
Then my advisor enlightened me: With just another course or two, I would have a double major in interpersonal communications and English/creative writing.
A newspaper journalism internship was among the creative writing courses I needed, so I tracked down the regional editor at the Syracuse Newspapers and asked whether I could write for free. The free work became a paid internship and the paid internship led to a full-time job when I graduated.
And there I was, writing for a living.
Great, right?
End of story?
Of course not, because that itch is incurable, that desire to write fiction.
It lay dormant for several years, satisfied with the human experiences journalism afforded me and the opportunity to grow within the craft of writing nonfiction, but I missed voice. I missed character. I missed plot.
I missed it all too much.
So what did I do?
It took me six years of working full time and driving two hours each way, twice a week to Binghamton University to get my master's degree in creative writing. But the need to scratch kept me in motion.
A degree still wasn't enough though. Just before I graduated, my husband and I made a deal: We would move to Arizona to pursue his dream job. When we were settled enough financially, I would pursue my dream of writing fiction.
It hasn't been easy.
Kids came along (Yay!) and finances dictated that I bring in some money, forcing me to set aside plans to write fiction full time. I have worked part time as a college English instructor, a magazine freelancer, a book editor, a website moderator and a taxonomy specialist, trying to balance work with family and writing.
So far, that has resulted in three published short stories and four unpublished novels that are in the hands of my wonderful literary agent, Liz Trupin-Pulli. Two more novels and a couple more short stories are in the works.
I have come to terms with my passion for fiction and my need to constantly scratch that itch (I suppose I could come up with a more pleasant metaphor.). It's been a long and complicated road, but that instinct, passion, itch -- whatever you want to call it -- never let me stray too far.
I am not alone.
I know so many other writers who also went to war with their natures and lost.
Some are best-selling authors. Some are mid-list. Some are still looking for publishers. Many gave up lucrative careers in other fields -- interior design, law, education. Why? Because the forces that drive us to create in such a way are simply too strong.
Fighting it leads to depression, and who wants to be depressed?
So don't be surprised, my friend, if your daughter ignores your advice and majors in creative writing anyway, or if she heeds your advice and later gives up her financial stability for the pursuit of the written word.
She's not being disrespectful or trying to mislead you or acting out of youthful ignorance.
She is simply abiding by her nature.
She's scratching that incurable itch.