Wednesday, October 18, 2017

In a World That Didn't Hate Me or My Students

I just had to draw the ideal classroom for my Educational Research class, and I found myself wanting to share what I wrote:

The last classroom I had, in North Philadelphia in 2014, had all the technological advancements that grants could buy—we had a most-of-the-time working Smartboard, a cart of 30 up-to-date laptops shared between two classes, good, Common Core Aligned textbooks, a schedule built around formative assessment and teacher training, even an enrichment program. My grade partner and fellow teachers were incredibly big-hearted, knowledgeable, extremely hardworking and tough. Yet I was the third teacher that year to go out on FMLA leave (and later resign) due to Acute Stress Disorder. No matter how dedicated I or my students were (and those kids TRIED THEIR HEARTS OUT) we couldn’t keep violence, poverty, prejudice, shame, homophobia, or stress from derailing our beautifully planned and decorated classroom culture. Though we learned to line up perfectly and sang class songs about how “everybody has a seed to sow,” I couldn’t keep the children safe. I thought constantly about the School-to-Prison Pipeline, (  and the last week I was there, I dreamed that we were loading the children onto Holocaust trains, and that doesn’t seem like much of an exaggeration.

I’m still not sure how to run a classroom without becoming part of the problem, but it was very healing to imagine what a classroom in a hospitable world would look like.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

What the G.O.P. Gains from Campus Rape

Every once in a while, I look at the Trump administration’s policies and ask the somewhat futile question of “Why?” Mostly the only answer I can come up with is “pure contempt for life itself,” but a trip down the Betsy DeVos rabbit hole gave me a little more specific (though no less alarming) answer.

DeVos has decided to frame campus rape as a crime that victimizes both the survivor and the rapist. Her stated goal is to minimize the damage to “the accused,” apparently having missed the movie with that title.

I feel like for the most part society at least has acknowledged that rape cases generally put the victim on trial, asking her to demonstrate enough “innocence” in herself to prove that she is somehow virtuous enough for rape to be possible, rather than her very female existence being, in itself, a kind of consent.

But to DeVos and the Men’s Rights Advocates, rapists are the real victims when it comes to campus rape. (It hurts to even type that sentence.) Along with the rest of our rape culture-steeped society, Trump’s deplorables set out not to preserve women’s right to learn safely, but to preserve the “bright futures” of campus predators. It would seem like the only possible aim here is to shore up the structures of rape culture itself—but why? Why advocate for members of society who feel entitled to the bodies of others without consent? What possible function could that serve?

My assertion is that the aim of making campus rape easier is to drain resources from women and make it harder for us to live independently and advocate for ourselves politically. Though my rape stories didn’t happen on a college campus, I can offer some insight as to what being a rape survivor costs. Like many women, I decided to get my PTSD treated after Trump was elected. I go to exposure therapy every Monday afternoon, drawing out and reliving rape and abuse stories in order to help my brain heal. It takes a long time to bounce back from the sessions, so time off work costs me about $100 per week. I am generally too exhausted to participate in political or artistic activities on Mondays or Tuesdays. A little less than 2/7 of each week is given over to treatment for rape and abuse. That adds up to about $5200 per year, and would be much more if I weren’t lucky enough to be treated at a free clinic. (Women Organized Against Rape! Call them!)

With all that said, I am probably among the luckiest rape survivors in human history. I have the money, time, and support necessary to devote myself to healing, and I have the spiteful and sassy temperament that it takes to stay positive and productive for the other five days of the week, to stay self-actualized and part of the Resistance.

But it’s still time theft. Because of my status as a survivor, I have less time and money to devote both to my own freedom and to the causes that I care about. Multiply that by every well-cared-for survivor, and it’s a lot of days, a lot of money, a lot of women’s physical, emotional, and political resources being siphoned off to recover from rape, and that’s just those of us who are lucky enough to be treated.

The damage done by rape can’t be quantified, and women emerging from college should have the right to devote their full selves to the life they want to lead. My littlest cousin just entered college this week, and my nieces aren’t far behind. I want them to have sovereignty over their own bodies so that they can build whatever life they choose.

So back to my original question of “Why?” Though I fully believe that the Rapist-in-Chief would love nothing more than to create an apocalyptic Handmaiden-scape, I think that everyday Republicans are after something that to them, seems more benign. I think that they want to save us by keeping us in what they think should be our place, and that means protecting male dominance no matter what the cost. I think the landscape the average Republican is trying to create is a whites-only 1950s suburb, where women are happily enslaved in the home and ever more willing to produce white, conformist children, all the while feeding the economy by purchasing ever more expensive kitchen supplies.

The good news, I think, is that that landscape never existed, and that the young women of today don’t want it. No matter what happens to Title IX, the young women of today will not support the G.O.P’s white supremacist misogynist heteronormative ideal. They deserve to own their bodies and their futures, and I hope they won’t have to fight as hard as I did to heal.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Tina Fey Sounded a Little Bit Trumpish with that Cake

“You had a group on one side that was bad, and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent.”

-- The White Supremacist-in-Chief in response to Charlottesville.

“I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.”

--Martin Luther King, Jr.

I am (a few weeks late, admittedly) obsessed with Tina Fey’s cake sketch. It’s one of the few things in recent memory that I’ve been able to be even a little equivocal about. She got some amazing points across, and “Yell it into the cake” will be part of my lexicon from now on. The way she ate the thing was mesmerizing, a work of art in and of itself. But to me, her overall takeaway message was one of obedience.

By characterizing protests as “screaming matches” and advising “good, sane Americans” to stay home, she is not only dishonoring Heather Hayer’s death, but encouraging a sense of superiority in those who do nothing. (Having lived through the 2016 election, I can assure you that the apathetic do not need help feeling superior.) I appreciate the empathy for my/our post-Trump feelings of fear and helplessness, but by denigrating anti-Nazi counter-protestors just as much as the torch-bearing monsters they were standing up to, Tina was (maybe satirically? I hope?) echoing the president’s claim that there was blame on both sides.

Lumping in all protests as unproductive and undignified seems especially out of step, considering this sketch shares a year with THE LARGEST PROTEST IN HUMAN HISTORY, and the assertion of helplessness is ridiculous, given the number of Confederate monuments that did come down after Charlottesville. Tina rants into the cake on the Water Protectors behalf while at the same time insinuating that they and their allies are less-civilized than those who stay home. Would she tell John Lewis that he’d participated in “screaming matches,” and that he should have stayed home? Listing off meaningful protests seems like just as annoying an undertaking as listing off women who are funny. When you’re starting from a crazy false premise, no amount of evidence will help.

I think every person with a platform, large or small, has the moral obligation to loudly and unambiguously stand with anti-hate action of all kinds. So, from my so-tiny-as-to-be-almost-nonexistent platform, I’ll say this:

Self care IS resistance, but resistance is also self-care. If we continue to prioritize our own safety and ignore threats to our fellow humans, our actions are no longer self-nurturing but nihilistic. White supremacy isn’t an event that we can choose to attend or not attend, it is woven so deeply into the fabric of our society that every single one of us can fight it, in large and small ways, every day. Helplessness is what Trump wants us to feel, and stress-eating is an outdated misogynist concept. Dear fellow white ladies, dear everyone: eat for pleasure and fight like hell for your fellow humans, in whatever way you can.

Friday, September 8, 2017

What I Hear When They Say “Bernie would’ve won.”

This is a hard post to write—the voices of depression, self-erasure, and totalitarian-times pre-obedience all tell me to knock it off, that I’m just being annoying and trying to sabotage my remaining friendships out of grief. Outside influences including the bullying team of socialist mostly-white-dudes formed post-election call for “unity, but I’m pretty sure what they’re asking for is obedience.
There’s a little volcano in my gut made out of the b-word, and every once in a while, it explodes, and there’s yelling. I’m embarrassed by my yelling, but I take comfort in knowing that if I were Bernie, my occasional blustering incoherence would be seen as “authentic” and “revolutionary” rather than unhinged and shrill. Stupid gender.
So here’s an attempt to be coherent, to put into words what I hear when someone says “Bernie would’ve won.”

1.     Trump is your/Hillary’s/women’s fault. As a rape survivor, I’m used to carrying blame in my body that isn’t mine. Health and healing demand that I rebel against it, but trauma has placed an “If I wouldn’t have…” deep in my psyche. So when people blame Hillary supporters for the election of Trump, the nausea and pain of false blame bubbles to the surface and I hiss and flail and panic to get it off me.

Through all of human history, women have absorbed blame that isn’t ours and have been rewarded with social capital when we are willing to take the side of the oppressor. As the Rapist-in-Chief’s decisions prove to be just as hateful and apocalyptic as we thought they would be, the blame feels ever more damaging. I don’t want to hear it any more than I wanted to hear “You shouldn’t have been wearing that dress.” at 16 when I told a policemen that a guy jerked off at me in the park. The connection feels like an anxiety-leap, but that doesn’t make it not true.

2.      You/she/women should have stayed in your place. I hear, when people call for unity around Bernie, that same rock-stupid sentiment that bigots use when they blamed President Obama for racism. Instead of acknowledging the tide of misogynist mob-mentality (on both/all sides) that lifted Trump into office, (mostly, but not exclusively, straight white male) Bernie supporters try to make it the fault of those of us who saw Hillary as a way to fight oppression.
“There wouldn’t be all of this tension if people would just stay in their place” is among the most evil and ignorant American ideas, and it is one of the central themes of all hate movements, but ordinary “nice” people revert to it all the time, especially in the context of Hillary-hate.

3.     You don’t deserve representation.

4.    Your/Hillary’s/women’s/people of color’s work doesn’t count. I’ve already written extensively about how irked I am that people tend to discount Hillary’s lifetime of trying to do as much good as she can, largely on behalf of the poor. This national blindspot has given me a clear view of how often women’s work goes unseen. The women (at the headquarters I worked in, it was mostly women, mostly queer women and women of color, in fact) who donated our/their time deserve better than to be dismissed or concern-trolled by those who threw dollar bills at our first major party female candidate from president or sat on the sidelines basking in their white male entitlement, patting themselves on the back for their “progressiveness” even as they harassed and belittled women and people of color for our/their choice of candidate.

5.   . The votes of women and people of color don’t count. This claws its angry way through the system every time someone talks about how the primary was “rigged” or the DNC simply anointed Hillary. There was voting! The gaslighting insistence of their version is so strong that I sometimes have to look up the statistics just to remember it-she just won! The fact that the male candidate with a weaker social justice platform lost doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with the system. There are plenty of things wrong with the system, of course, this just isn’t one of them.

6.       White people should get to decide. But we fucking DON’T!
From the Wall Street Journal. I think that anyone who cares about social justice needs to make the opinions of people of color into account, and I hear white people dismiss these numbers all the time.

And take a look at the Trump regime if you want to see what white people’s vision of the county can be!

To me, the continued wistfulness about Bernie Sanders is a socially acceptable analog of Trump-sympathizing. In my opinion, it’s still driven by white male entitlement and white female betrayal/Stockholm syndrome, a desperate clinging to the past, tangled with the denial that race and gender bias exist at all.

It sucks, and it better be fucking taken care of by the time Kamala Harris runs for president.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Theme and Wishes for Age 43

            I thought about going with “flawless,” but I just like flaws so much. For the past week or so, my intention in every meditation session has been “I’m celebrating my life,” and I have been. I’m so glad to be here. I woke up, in a healthy body and an often-happy heart. I’m here. Most of the time, I’m pretty sure that I exist, and that’s a big change for me. I want to keep being here wholeheartedly, keep celebrating. How lucky we are to be alive right now was another good option. I’m so thankful every day that I woke up like this.

            My political wishes for the coming year are many, of course, though right now DACAis heaviest on my heart. My personal wishes are simple: more money and more snuggles.  The money part seems less mystifying—as soon as I finish grad school in December, I’ll be free to build up my tutoring clientele. But the snuggle part, as always, is a mystery. I’ve written out my ideal mate a thousand times, but what I wish for is fairly simple: someone warm and funny to take walks with. If by some miracle he voted Hillary in the 2016 primary, all the better. I have some guilt about hoping to be with someone masculine-identified (this misguided ex-wife loyalty runs deep) but I do.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Birthday Heart Inventory: Thanks 42!

Surprisingly, 42 was one of my happiest years yet. Last year around this time, I wrote about depression as a weed killer and this year, my garden is thriving, both literally and figuratively. There’s a lot of pain in my heart and so much battle still ahead, but my goal of cultivating a life has been met and exceeded.

Mental Health: Like for a lot of women, particularly trauma survivors, the 2016 election season was wildly triggering. In my case, those triggers got me to an amazing place: Women Organized Against Rape. Not only did my (FREE!) therapist there stem the tide of sobbing and panicking to a manageable level, she has also steered me towards a calmer, warmer, more productive, and loving self—she is truly a brain artist. It’s hard work to focus on the trauma part of life every Monday, and it usually results in at least a day of catharsis hangover, but it’s 100% worth it. This year is the closest I’ve ever come to feeling truly worthy of love, especially my own.

Love: Every day I feel the gorgeous, generous, and powerful love of friends, family, and cats, but I could copy and paste the longing for romantic love that I’ve written nearly every year. Though I’ve finally attained the goal of self-containment to a level that seems magical, I dream about boyfriends nearly every night. I try to take loneliness as a sign of health, my heart telling me that it’s ready to open up again.
            This is a good place to confess that there are a couple of guys I haven’t gotten over. I still wish I could hear from them, even though I know they aren’t the right ones. I keep their nice notes and artwork in the Box of Things to Be Worked Out by Unseen Forces. They don’t read this, I don’t think, but I’ll tell them anyway:
Dear _______ and ________,
Thank you for being in my life, for loving me the best you could, for the snuggles, the music, the kindness. Thank you for your face, your kindness, your humor, your support. I’m sorry for the ways that I hurt you. You’ll always be a sparkly gem in my heart because you changed me for the better. I’ll always a little bit belong to you, and I hope that you remember the best parts.
Love, Jane
(With that, I hope I made a little room for some snuggle-able treasures to come aboard.)

Work: I love my tutoring work so, so much. Getting to work with kids one-on-one, getting to know their families, using my teaching skills organically and flexibly, I CAN’T BELIEVE I made it here from where I was three years ago. Even on my lost-est days, a tutoring session brings me back to myself, frees me to live in love and in the present.
            I have one more semester of grad school (I HATE being back in grad school!) and then my teacher certification will be permanent. I hope to build up to a full-time tutoring business—I LOVE being my own boss, and the joy of going to the bank to deposit cash has not diminished since my waitress years.
            Creative coaching is going beyond-well: Coachees tend to transform into friends who guide my creativity just as much as I cheerlead theirs.

Art: At an organizing meeting last November, I introduced myself as a “street artist” for the first time, and that title really does ring true. I love being able to share my work with the neighborhood, watching how well the paintings I staple to phone poles get curated—some of the pieces have been up for more than a year! It’s a way to give and get love every time I take a walk, and fulfills what I think are the deepest purposes of art: to give, to love, to connect. Sometimes a neighbor even thanks me, and it’s the warmest, most fulfilling, most enriching feeling.
Activism: Remember when we thought it was sometimes not an election year? Transitioning from activism being a once-once-in-a-while pursuit to being a Daily Action feels healthy and sane. I’m so inspired by those who stay engaged and also by the way that we’ve committed to self-care as part of the resistance.
Plus, it’s always a good time to remind myself that this happened:

Grief: Although the Rapist-in-Chief causes the most horror in my heart and worldwide, it’s the misogyny of the 2016 Democratic primary that has caused me the most personal day-to-day grief, including making me wonder if I can ever date a man again. I’m working on a separate post about the ongoing soul-rash that is The Bern, so I won’t spend any more of my birthday typing about him.

Family:  My family of origin seems to have forgiven me for my Thanksgiving-ruining, welcoming me back like a prodigal daughter. My poetry family is mostly not connected to me anymore, largely a casualty of the misogyny-storm of the primaries. My immediate family is my ex-wife/bff and my two cats, and that’s a really, really nice life.

Spirituality: I’m addicted to Insight Timer, going to yoga weekly, and I’m even getting monthly massages. Sometimes I think I might just float up off the earth.
It’s been, in many ways, a year of luxury, of radical self-care, and I hope I can continue that spirit through age 43 and beyond. Thank you for helping make my life so rich, complex, and loving—wishing you all of the healing and happiness.

August Checkmarks, Birthday Month Goals