Wednesday, October 17, 2018

~~Medicare and the Dongatta Breakthrough~~


Where to start? I guess with the fact that, for years, because of my excruciatingly low wages as a professor hired on adjunct contracts, I was unable to afford the obscene costs of the for-profit medical insurers in the U.S.  So, I went without health insurance; on the rare occasion when I needed a doctor (which was all of about twice in the last decade), I paid out of pocket.  Then, the Obama campaign came along, promising to reform the horrible medical system we had.  He promised a public option where citizens could opt into the program that, up until then, was offered only to seniors – the Medicare system.

But once Obama was elected and the healthcare “reform” was underway, what we were told immediately was that the public option was no longer on the table.  It was claimed that the reformed system would work, instead, by forcing through law, all those citizens who did not carry insurance (and shouldn’t we be ashamed for how irresponsible we were?) to buy it – and that with all those people now mandated by the government and paying into the system, the government would be able to come to agreements with the insurers to do away with things like pre-existing condition clauses that allowed insurers to refuse treatment and care for anything a patient had before their insurance existed.  This included things like menstrual cramps, eye infections, yeast infections, broken bones, even pregnancy…..anything and everything that a for-profit insurance company could find in your medical history in order for them to refuse treatment, or worse, completely nullify your coverage.

The Obama administration said that they would do away with this (but didn’t entirely), they promised greater controls on premiums, and to make sure that women were no longer paying more for their medical coverage than men (they didn’t entirely).  So now, by law, you were required to purchase insurance from one of these dastardly for-profit companies, no matter what.  But the system, of course, was still tied to your income level – what you could afford determined the level and quality of medical care you could receive.  In looking at these options, I realized that, because of my low wages, all I could afford were policies with enormous deductibles -- $5,000 and $6,000 deductibles – which meant that I would receive NO medical coverage for the premiums I paid until those deductibles were satisfied.  Every single year.  As a woman who has not gone to a doctor once in the last 7 or 8 years, who does not take pharmaceutical medication, what that meant is that by law I was now going to be required to pay one of these insurance companies hundreds of dollars from an income that was already stretched to the breaking point…..for nothing.  The company would rake in my premiums, but have no responsibility to pay for any of my medical treatment until I paid out of pocket $5k or $6k a year.  This was something I knew would probably never happen.  Why not, then, defy the law, work with my accountant to prove that I still couldn’t afford the insurance required by this mandate, and risk the penalty imposed on citizens for not following the law?  That is what I did. And each year, my accountant managed quite easily to prove that I was, indeed, exempt from the mandate because of my low salaries.  But that meant more years of being uninsured in a country where many doctors refuse to see uninsured citizens, where hospitals demand that you are insured.  It meant that I was continuing to live without even the most basic assurance of healthcare. A Pyrrhic Victory at best.  I know that this is incomprehensible to people living in most parts of the civilized world.  But in America, there is such successful propaganda protecting this for-profit system that many people believe we have “the best medical care in the world”.

One thing I’d like to point out here in terms of the ACA (called “Obamacare” by some).  The claim made by the Obama Administration and its functionaries was that now everyone could “afford health insurance”.  Not ONCE did they ever say that now, everyone would receive health care.

So…..years have gone by, and I am turning 65, the magical year when our U.S. government finally offers something resembling “universal” healthcare.  But it is still a complicated system.  Part A covers hospitalization, emergencies, surgery.  Part B, which is deducted from your pay or your Social Security, covers doctor visits and tests.  You need to find coverage for pharmaceuticals, called Part D. Part C is something that people take out to cover the “gaps” in the insurance so that they aren’t driven to bankruptcy by the treatments that are not covered.   At least I think that’s what Part C is.  My brain stopped working after a while.

It felt a bit overwhelming, so I went to a medical advisor to discuss the options.  I was told that all my problems and confusion would be solved if I simply chose to opt OUT of the “original” form of Medicare A and B for what is called a “Medicare Advantage” policy.  You guessed it – these policies are administered by the for-profit healthcare providers.  You can pay a “zero” premium for these policies, which bundle coverage, including drug costs, and often make some nod toward dental and vision, and hearing – which are not covered by regular Medicare.  They also provide something called “Silver Sneakers” – a program in gyms across the country that provides exercise for seniors.  I can't even imagine.

I considered it, and came dangerously close to buying one of these policies.  That is, of course, until I was told that I needed to choose a “primary care provider”.  This is a system that is called an HMO, which requires that you choose a doctor who then oversees all of your history and treatment, and who provides “referrals” to specialists.  So you have a kind of overlord, and you have a system – called a “network” of approved doctors and hospitals which, in order to get the full benefits of the coverage, you are required to stay within.  Woe betide anyone who wants a doctor or a treatment, or a hospital, outside the “network”.  Then you are paying more....often full price, out of pocket.  This includes any medical treatment outside your state – since the approved network of doctors is not an easy thing to stay within when you leave town.  I spent hours trying to find “in network” doctors that I would even consider using as my physicians. (After nearly 25 years spent as the wife of an attorney who was partner in one of the most highly recognized medical malpractice firms in Philadelphia, I have a healthy skepticism and a high level of demand where doctors and hospitals are concerned.)  Hours of wasted time were spent as I searched and searched for those elusive “in network” providers.  I realized I didn’t want an HMO.  I wanted what I had had for all the years of my marriage – a PPO which allows you to choose your own doctors and medical venues (imagine that).  But here’s the catch.  For that, you had to pay extra.  PPOs are always much more expensive.  Now, keep in mind that the “zero” premium these companies offer to medicare recipients for the HMO-level of coverage is not really zero.  These companies are taking your part B deduction from the government….so you are paying at least whatever that year’s cost for part B is.  In 2018, the year I am required to make this decision, that deduction is $134.00.  So, the for-profit Medicare Advantage insurers were getting $134 of MY money to provide less choice in doctors, in hospitals, in treatment.  And if I wanted choice, I had to pay more for those PPO policies – in some cases, several hundred dollars a month more.  Yet, even then, I had to stay within a “network” of their selected doctors and hospitals.   But guess what?  When I searched through the doctors in my city for those I would choose as my physicians, and searched my preferred hospitals, what I found was that, without exclusion, every single one of them accepted Medicare.  Just plain old Medicare.  So, by staying with the original Medicare A and B, I eliminated the need to spend hours of my precious time searching for in-network doctors.  I eliminated the problem of out-of-pocket costs when traveling to other cities and states. Why, then, I wondered, would anyone opt to pay Blue Cross, for instance, over $250 a month in addition to their $134 to have little beyond the illusion of choice? have less?

The answer appeared when I emailed that healthcare advisor to tell her that I was opting for the original Medicare A and B, and would not be taking out one of her policies with any of the for-profit insurers.  Her response went quickly to an all-out attempt to trigger fear.  Those gaps in coverage meant that there were no “caps” on your spending, she said.  That was risky, she said.  You could “lose everything”.

All the bells and whistles went off.  That was how these companies were selling themselves to seniors.  They played on the fear of bankruptcy and loss of all that the seniors had earned and worked for all their lives.  And yes, this is a very real fear.  The highest percentage of bankruptcies in the United States are due to medical costs.  People do lose their savings, their homes, their assets. Nothing frightens anyone more than that – especially seniors who, given the societal indoctrination we receive, anticipate our later years as years of sickness requiring perpetual daily medications, doctors and hospitals.  We are completely indoctrinated to believe that our golden years will be the sickly yellow-gold of jaundice, and that we will be left living in state-run senior homes eating canned catfood.

We’re a huge portion of the population now – we old hippies who are now aging into seniority and aging OUT of the for-profit medical system.  So, this is why a huge effort is being made to keep us in. (What was the line from Godfather III?  “Just when I thought I was out, they pulled me back in!!!”)

And of course, these companies and their functionaries are adept with the smoke and mirrors of “look what you get from us”, when the truth is, as ever, the for-profit system of healthcare doesn’t provide actual health care.  As I said earlier, it provides health insurance, in a system rigged to allow them to deny you coverage whenever possible. So, it, in fact, insures very little.

When I re-read this woman’s email, I burst out laughing.  “Do you want to take that risk?” she asked, implying Do you want to lose everything?

For me, unlike most people I know, this threat holds absolutely no power.  Why?  Because I already lost everything.  Because when Wall Street imploded and the market crashed in 2008, I was wiped clean.  Savings, assets, homes......gone in a matter of months.  At first, it nearly killed me. I was crushed psychologically and emotionally; and for the longest time I felt ashamed, blaming myself for what happened, feeling that I had made “wrong decisions” somehow.  That I was “ruined.” But I survived.  I experienced what we are taught to fear most, and lived.  And since then, my response to the experience, ultimately, ran contrary to what others who had experienced these losses did.  Unlike them, I didn’t try to rebuild.  I didn’t try to restore my “credit” or replace my savings.  Instead, I divested further.  Unlike the Old Testament Job, I didn’t want it all back.

For this, I will always be grateful to my professor and mentor, Bibhuti Yadav.  When I was still an undergraduate studying world religions, I took his Hinduism course.  He talked about the stages of life from a Hindu perspective.  When you were a student, you were expected to devote yourself entirely to learning.  When you were a householder, you devoted yourself to being an active member of the community, caring for your children, working to keep the community healthy and well-functioning, and what you acquired, you acquired for that purpose.  But, he said, it was realized that this was only a stage of life.  Those things you acquired were necessary for a time, but not forever.  In fact, if you held on to them beyond their time of usefulness, they became burdens you carried which held you down.  There came a time in life when the goal, he said, was to “walk naked.”  You were expected to divest of everything you no longer needed. In the case of our modern life this meant homes, cars, savings, clothes…..all material goods that now became more burden than blessing.

It was Bibhuti’s voice I finally heard in my head, once the initial shock and humiliation of the experience of loss began to subside.  The universe had wiped me clean…..or at least nearly clean. My work was not to restore all that was swept away, but to sweep away what was still left.

So for the last decade of my life, that is what I’ve done.  I sold what I could.  I donated the rest: antiques and other furniture, Oriental carpets, a piano, a car, a library of books, a vintage album collection, a gourmet kitchen’s worth of cookware, stereo equipment, an enormous wardrobe of clothes.  Believe it or not, I am still cleansing – that’s how much I had left, even after the majority of things were swept away. Just last fall, I donated nearly $2,000 more in clothing that I couldn’t bear to part with when I did the other sweeps.  Some of these clothes still had price tags on them.  That’s how much I didn’t ever need them.

Finally, most of the material belongings are gone.  It’s now time to begin letting go of old, outworn identities and roles that I had once played which are no longer of use.  This gets a bit trickier, because so much of our “identity” seems bound up in those roles.

About a year ago, I divested of the identity of “university professor” – in that I, for the first time since finishing my graduate work, refused to work on an adjunct contract.  I walked away from a role that I had played for decades: that of a suffering, exploited, poverty-stricken scholar in a corporatized university system.  What I understood was that I didn’t give up my intellectual training or my knowledge, I did not give up my skills or my experience.  I did not give up the years of scholarship and research I had done.  What I divested myself of was identifying with, colluding, with my own exploitation.  I gave up accepting an image of myself that was degrading and demeaning.  I liberated myself from a perversion of my identity.

In the course of this process of liberation, I took retirement benefits early, taking a bit of a hit in the monthly payment, in exchange for my ability to declare my freedom – to extricate myself further from the chains of a society that weighed me down.  We live in a society that weighs us all down, that perverts all our identities, that controls through fear and intimidation.  With every passing year, I believe more completely that our true happiness exists in breaking away from the illusions that hold us hostage.

But this is how they get you.  If you follow the “rules,” (as most of us try to do without fully understanding the implications) you go to school, get as good an education as you can (and in America now that means what you can afford, or how much debt you can accrue), you get a job that allows you to pay on that debt.  If you can, you buy property.  You marry.  You have children.  You accrue more debt.  You need the job more now, and will put up with misery – low wages, overwork, exploitation and abuse, because you can’t afford not to.  You work harder because it costs money to maintain a house, repair a car, care for your children, maintain your marriage, support your role in society.  It costs money to go to a therapist and talk about your anxiety and your stress.  It costs money to pay for those anti-depressants and anti-anxiety meds.  What it all boils down to is that you are told to be the kind of person who acquires, because that proves you are successful -- and then you become one who must struggle to maintain it all – and that kind of person is terrified of loss. Terrified, really, of even the risk or threat of loss.  That’s all it takes to control you.  To manipulate you.  To sell you Medicare Advantage.

Do you want to take that risk?   I remembered a scene from one of my favorite shows, “West Wing”, where the Sam Seaborn character (played by Rob Lowe) tells his client, an oil company, that he’s created a “liability shield” for them – which, to their mind, was about protecting them in their decision to buy tankers without updated navigation systems which would run aground and spill oil, cause environmental disasters.  Seaborn had created legal protections that assured the company that none of their “assets” were accessible in the case of a law suit.  He built a wall of debt around them so they were “judgment proof”.  Everybody was happy.

If our U.S. “corporate citizens” can find ways to be judgment proof, in order to protect them against liability for their rampant anti-social irresponsibility, then damn it, we living, breathing human citizens, who work our asses off for a lifetime (and who rarely pollute the Gulf of Mexico or crash an economic system) should do the same.  And I’ve found my way of doing just that:  I own nothing.  At least, nothing that a debt collector would want.*

So when the insurance agent tells me that I should buy her insurance to protect myself from risk, I can answer:  I don’t gotta.

Why?  Because I don’t gotta house.  I don’t gotta chunk of savings.  I don’t gotta portfolio of assets. I don’t gotta damn thing that creditors can get their filthy hands on.

And guess what?  I intend to keep it that way.

I thank Bibhuti for the guidance that led me to this realization.  He sanctified letting go, he sanctified a kind of liberation that is contrary to everything we are indoctrinated to believe in American society. I call it my Dongatta Breakthrough, because I like the Italian-sounding word and what it conjurs:  a kind of in your face sprezzatura.  I’m not exactly “walking naked” because I prefer to be clothed in public; but I am walking free with a kind of bella figura of delicious abandon only possible when you are no longer chained to a dogma of fear.   I highly recommend it.  I also urge you not to wait until you are sixty-five to try it out.


*Obviously, I know that many, if not most, of you, prefer to have assets.  But what I am saying here goes for you, too.  There are plenty of ways that you can legally create a liability shield to make you judgment proof.  Here’s one.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Re-orienting, Re-focusing

Since this blog languishes for long periods between entries, I've decided to re-think the way that I want Debra Leigh Says to operate.  As my bio indicates, I work in a lot of different areas - academia, the arts, activism, world religions and spirituality.  But so far, this blog hasn't really served as a centralized location for those areas of activity, instead being more focused on the political realities, the current events of our times.

So, I have decided that I'll be sharing a lot more in this space, with a kind of restructuring of the formations, mirroring the passions and concerns and activities of my life. There will be blogs about arts and creativity, which will link and relate to our arts blogs, Hidden River Arts and Cabaret Divas.  There will be blogs about exploration, learning and wisdom. These will link to our Guerilla U blog and our soon-to-be-launched Isidore Internatioal website, as well as to the 'Junct Rebellion site where you'll find lots of information about the activism and activities in the area of education and learning.  I'll be sharing posts about spirituality and personal sojourning, with links to our Writing from the Chakras program.  There will some exploration about lifestyle -- this will include discussions of healthy eating, exercise, off-the-grid/holistic practices, and things like entertainment - movies, restaurants, travel. These topics will link to our blog, Good Times Manifesto.  Then, finally, there will be discussions about the times in which we live, the challenges we face in this era -- this may or may not link to other blogs, and might just remain one of the distinguishing characteristics of Debra Leigh Says.

One of the things that fueled this re-structuring is a disconnecting.  I've deleted my Facebook app from my tablet, and have thereby cut down my use of that social media site by about 85%.  I still have a FB account, and still maintain pages for Hidden River, 'Junct, Good Times, etc.  But disconnecting was the first step in returning focus to more long-form writing, more quality sharing of information and news.  From now on, the majority of what I share on FB, Twitter, Instagram, etc, will link back to the more developed thought, in a format that is more conducive to developed thought.

Something like the "Slow Food" movement, or the "Slow Travel" movement, I am instituting a sort of "Slow Communication" movement of my own.  That means that, while I may actually become a bit faster in the number of posts I am sharing, the content offered will be coming from a more thoughtful, slowly-digested place.  The slap-dash pace of a site like Facebook, the 140 character limit on your thought by Twitter, the over-dependency on pretty pictures in Instagram, the focus on commercial materialism by LinkedIn…..all of them serve to limit and to indoctrinate in certain ways that I am finding increasingly offensive and frightening.

So, for now, check out the other sites, and consider following or "liking" or whatever, since my goal hereafter is to enliven them all, and share aspects of each through this Debra Leigh Says site, which will serve as a kind of hub or clearing house for all.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

America: A Country That Eats Children, Part Two

(Photo from

In Part One of this essay, I wrote that a country born of genocide, built by slavery, grown by exploitation and cruelty, with its society fueled by racism and intolerance, may not be capable of being saved.  I begin Part Two here by saying that, if such a country cannot be saved and reformed, then it
should cease to exist.   Such a country is a danger to everything that is life-affirming, and should be challenged, both from within by its citizens and from without by countries who are more committed to the well-being of their people.

Stefan Zweig, an √©migr√© from the Nazi terrors in Europe, was deeply miserable in the United States, where he and his wife had landed after escaping first the continent, and then England.  He watched in horror as fascism and violence consumed everything he once knew of his life.  Europe, he wrote, was committing suicide.  It was only from a distance that he was able to see that the intellectuals, the writers, the journalists, had failed to recognize the extent of the threat early enough, had failed to sound the trumpets of warning while it still could have raised a successful resistance.  Many of those intellectuals, writers and journalists, ultimately, fell prey to relentless propaganda.  What he called  “the ‘doping’ of excitement” which was caused by what was by then a relentless incitement of anxiety and upset, created people who were psychologically and physically made sick and passive by despair.  Zweig saw the American people as largely unmoved by the plight of the people of the world – both those who had remained in Europe and those who had fled.

I would add to that my own assumption, since I think I know the American sickness well enough:  the only time that average Americans became engaged was when they identified with the “might” of the American military, heading over the ocean to enter the battles.  The American desire to “win” whipped the majority of people into fervor – not, I would suggest, out of a true compassion for the suffering or the ruin being faced by millions of people, but for the adrenaline rush of victory for its own sake.

In other words, we are a lot more like the Nazis in temperament that we want to admit.  And, if you extend that thought, we are committing suicide in a way very similar to the suicide of Nazi Germany.

Of course, not all Americans can be painted with that broad brush.  There were those who were deeply engaged in the human rights concerns of the world wars.  But, for many reasons that probably warrant a few other essays, our intellectuals, artists and journalists have been mislead, seduced, and silenced.  In this piece, I’m talking about the “average” American who remains either willfully uninformed, or habitually misinformed, who benefits from obedience to the current status quo.  Who are they, you ask?  Look around you now, in 2018.  See those people parroting the sound bytes?  Repeating the talking points of pundits word-for-word?  See those who hang flags all over their properties and from their cars and trucks, with bumper stickers like “America: Love It or Leave It!” or “My Country, Right or Wrong!” The nationalists, the supremacists, the militarists.  These are the ones easiest to spot.  These people are in the majority both here in the U.S., and I would venture to say, around the world.  They are the followers.  The worker bees.  Nature produces more of them in every species than it produces the leaders.  For now, let’s call them “the subjects”.  Every age has a majority of people who are “subjects”, who are ruled by the power players of their day.  Now, of course, within that population, there might be a few who are rebellious, who are resistors, who see the deep wrongs of their society.  But the majority of the subjects are willing to be ruled.  Desirous of being told what to think and how to behave.  That feels safe. They enjoy knowing and following the dictates of the time, and enjoy even more condemning those who don’t toe the line.  They take pride it this behavior.  They consider themselves “good” citizens.

But don’t be fooled into thinking that it is that simple.  You find the same sorts of sentiments in the corporate boardrooms, among the administrators of our corporatized colleges, on Wall Street, in the media monopolies.  In fact, it can be argued that it is the more subtle obedience by those power elite that is far more dangerous – because those are the people profiting from the misery the most.  Every age has these people, too.  They are not the “subjects”.  They are the nobles, the lords, the aristocracy of the day.  Their obedience and determination to uphold the current power dictates has everything to do with how much they benefit from the role they play.

These are timeless archetypes, and to see them in America is to understand what part of the cycle of history we are currently experiencing.  The “good” American mouths the lies about criminals at our borders, or about the ways in which these children are in facilities much more like “summer camps”, or that their parents “got what they deserved” for breaking the law.  They attack anyone criticizing the inhumanity of our government’s behavior as unpatriotic, anti-American, or….heaven forbid “communist” (despite the fact that most of these “good” Americans couldn’t tell you one accurate thing about communist theory).  These “good” Americans are dangerous, in that they are easily whipped into ecstatic hatred.  The power elite, however, are more dangerous still.  They create the narratives mouthed by the “subjects”.  They bombard the airwaves, the print media, even the movies and TV shows with the messages that control the masses.  They not only manufacture the lies, but they own the means of dissemination.  And, worst of all, they profit mightily from their role in this process.

All of this is meant to reveal the most relevant truth:  These “good” Americans don’t care about your families.  They don’t care about your children.  The everyday “good” American sees outsiders as a threat – to their economic security, to the safety of their neighborhoods.  Brian Kilmeade, a newscaster on the Fox News channel this week assured his viewers that it was okay not to care about those migrant families and the separated and caged migrant children, since they were not our children.  By that, he meant our white, privileged American children.  Images arise of the German children whose lives were little impacted as they played only yards from the barbed wire fences that imprisoned the starving children on the other side.

(Both photos from

Such German families, after the war, swore that they “didn’t know” what was happening.  The truth was, those Good Germans didn’t care.

Remember this week’s fashion faux pas of our first lady, Melania Trump, boarding a plane to visit the children’s detention centers in Texas while wearing a military- green rain coat with the words “I Really Don’t Care. Do U?” scrawled across the back?

                                          (Getty Images)

Her press secretary replied to the outcry that no “hidden message” was intended.  It was just a coat.  The Good Americans will believe it, repeat it, scoff at anyone who insists differently, mocking their “conspiracy theories”.  They might even rush to the Zara website and buy that jacket themselves.

Was it a mistake?   Consider this:  Me Ne Frego was a motto of Italian fascism.  Giovanni Tiso writes a wonderful piece offering us the fascist history of the phrase “I don’t care”.  He writes:

“Four years ago, speaking at a First World War commemoration in the small town of Redipuglia, Pope Francis linked ‘me ne frego’ not only with the carnage of that conflict, but also with the horrors of Fascism, recognising its ideological and propaganda value for Mussolini’s project. This is the form in which the slogan has survived until the present day, as a linguistic signifier not of generic indifference, but of ideological nostalgia. And because the attempts in Italy and beyond to stem the spread of such signifiers have been comprehensively abandoned, we readily find those words appearing not just on seemingly ubiquitous Fascist-era memorabilia but also on posters, t-shirts…stickers…..The international neofascist movement is of course well aware of this lineage. By way of example, if you search for it online you’ll find a long-running English-language podcast called Me ne frego which recycles this imagery in support of arguments against immigration and multiculturalism, or to opine on the subject of ‘the Jewish question’. I don’t doubt that people close both to the Trump administration and this world are similarly cognisant of the uses to which those three words have been put. But even for those who aren’t, claims to indifference have a history which we mustn’t allow ourselves to forget.”

Coincidence?  Not bloody likely.  Our current First Lady, the former Melania Knauss of Slovenia, was born and raised in the only part of the former Yugoslavia that had been entirely annexed by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy during the war.  Do you think there is even the slightest possibility that she did not recognize the Anglicized version of Me ne frego?

I say that this spirit of “not caring” is the construct of propaganda that creates a willful maintenance of a blank mind and conscience.

There is the fashion statement, and there is the fascist statement.  And if there is a profit to be made by selling this message in everything from its most blatant to its most coded forms, well, then, all the better.  That’s always where the American elite enter the story, isn’t it?  Profit.   The monstrosity of profit is never better illustrated than by exploring the behavior of Amazon.  Check out their Me Ne Frego offerings here.

The American elite sees everything as ripe with profit potential.

For-profit prisons and detention centers are raking in billions in government contracts for the warehousing of asylum seekers.  All the attendant services that are provided -- the food, the clothing, the equipment, the furnishing, the custodial services – mean more government contracts and more enormous profit.  Then, there are the health providers – medical services provided at great cost to the government (read that: the taxpayer) – who, by most accounts provide little actual healthcare to these poor detainees, but who profit mightily from the pretense.  Also, let’s not forget the pharmaceutical companies who are, apparently, providing massive amounts of drugs that are being used to dope the children against their will – psychotropic drugs, for instance, in huge amounts, forced on these helpless people….even children barely out of diapers.

And then, of course, there is the profit to be made by reporting all of this in the media – the TV news channels, the online new sources and social media sites, the organizations slamming the information, complete with horrifying photos, into emails appealing for donations to “fight” for the children.

In America, human beings are only valuable to the extent that they can be commodified.  And if they can commodified in multiple ways, so much the better.

And, lest we think that this is only true regarding the way we treat “outsiders.” I’d suggest that you take a long hard look at the way our own children, with their American citizenships, are treated.  Our children are commodified from the time they are zygotes.  Companies are eager to sell expectant parents thousands of dollars worth of baby products.  Once born, the children are being advertised to with alarming  frequency.  They are not valued as the young, innocent little humans they are, but for the marketing potential they represent. Once they reach school age, they are subjected to “education” that is, at best, suspect and , at worst, a disgrace.  They are  diagnosed, pathologized, medicated, manipulated – all while still being marketed to, shaped emotionally by relentless media influences.  The cattle shunt into college begins in elementary school with standardized testing, tutors, music lessons, dance lessons, language lessons, sports activities, expensive summer camps, and finally to SAT and ACT training programs, college admission counselors, all of which drive the majority of students into obscenely expensive higher education and the ensuing student debt penury, then, finally, into a low-wage job market, where they become yet another generation of desperate, miserable, often still medicated adults.

And those are the lucky ones.

The children born into white families….even the poorest white families, still have a better life than those born into black or Latino families.  The scourge of poverty, the disease of racism, the blight of poor neighborhoods, the constant struggle of living in an occupied police state….all lead to the greater likelihood of violent death (often at the hands of police), or incarceration.

The Good Americans don’t care about any of this.  They believe what they are told about why such things are the way they are.  College is expensive, and there is nothing we can do about it.  Wages are low because that is what the market dictates.  It’s all about staying competitive.  Anyone who complains is just too lazy to work hard and earn a good living.  We need a huge military because our national security is at great risk.  All those dead black boys must have been doing something wrong.  Police are only doing their job.  If the number of black and brown bodies in our prison system is exploding, it is because we have finally gotten tough on crime.  If people are homeless, it is because of bad choices and personality flaws. And probably drug abuse.  Poverty is a personal choice.  Everyone, after all, has an equal chance to make it in this country, right? The Good Americans sleep securely at night, in the knowledge that things are as they should be, because that is what they are told.  The elite Americans keep growing wealthier by finding ways to profit on the status quo. So, even though they know the secret, they certainly aren’t going to breathe a word of it in public.

I believe that what Stefan Zweig saw in the 1930s and early 40s, he would see today right here on American soil.  He would recognize the fascism faster, seeing immediately that we welcomed it into our protective borders in the form of Nazi scientists and theoreticians during and after WWII. (No hostility toward those immigrants!) He would speak out about the financiers of the U.S. who laundered money for the Nazi Party, who continued profiting by serving both sides of war, and whose banks and agencies have continued on, perhaps with some name changes along the way, until this very day.  He would recognize the latest embodiment of fascist principles in this country’s social Darwinism and genocidal practices, its power hunger, its militarized hegemony, its disdain for the needs of human rights abroad, or for sustaining a healthy environment, healthy business practices, healthy citizens at home.  He would recognize the leering face of cruelty and evil beneath the plastered smile of the pundit, the CEO, the politician.

But Stefan Zweig committed suicide in 1942, despairing of what had happened to Europe, and made hopeless by what he observed as the future of humanity.  He had completed his memoir, The World of Yesterday, the day before his death.  He and his wife took an overdose of barbiturates and died, holding hands.  Maybe that was their message: that they were leaving this life while still believing in each other and believing in the possibility of love….if only in the next world.

So, yes, America is committing suicide – but the problem is that this suicide is more like that of the kamikaze, who willingly dies while in the act of creating widespread destruction around him.

Yes, it is natural to despair.  The increased number of suicides in the U.S. in the past ten years is proof that large numbers of people see no hope for the future, and are tired of the enormous amount of pain they are suffering.

But we have to live for the children.  We, those of us who don’t identify ourselves as Good Americans -- who are vilified each time we raise our voices in protest, whose heads are broken by police batons, whose Facebook and Twitter pages are surveilled by our intelligence agencies, who are sick nearly to death of what we see happening around us – we have to remain defiantly alive.  We have to hold our gaze on the unspeakable, so that we can speak it.  We have to fight even the most seeming unwinnable war.  We have to rescue the children being served up for devouring.

We have to be proud and determined to be the Bad Americans who finally heed Zweig’s lamentations and work to reverse what he so feared for humanity.

Yet, there is the very real possibility that we will fail – and that will mean either that the world itself will be in cinders or that Europe, rebuilt and restored, but not forgetting the errors and evils of its own recent past, will rise up against the United States for the sake of protecting its own well-being.   When Germans failed to end the horrors that began within their borders and then spread like disease through Europe, it was the other countries which rose up to fight.   If we can’t reverse what is happening in the United States, if we can’t begin to reverse the ways our destructive behaviors have already put the world at risk, then we have to confront the very real possibility that others will take on the responsibility themselves.  That could well mean that the United States, as it exists today, would cease to be.

Do you think anyone would care?

Friday, June 22, 2018

America: A Country That Eats Children


When my daughter was about four years old, she took it into her head to hide from me in a children’s clothing department at a Macy’s Department store.  For what only could have been about 2 minutes, I searched for her, called her name, enlisted the help of the saleswomen in the department.  The terror I felt was indescribable, fueled largely by the fact that this department was right near a triple set of glass doors leading out of the store and into the parking garage.  I was shaking with fear that my little girl had been taken, abducted.  My ordeal ended when a very tall man, who was walking through the department, saw us searching.  Being very tall, he was able to see down into the center of a circular clothing rack, and asked, “Is your little girl wearing a purple sweater, does she have long dark pigtails?” as he leaned in and scooped her out in one quick motion.

His action terrified my daughter, who had no idea that a stranger could so easily hold her in his grip.  Once he handed her over to me, all I could do was clutch my child to my chest and hurry from the story to the garage, securing my little girl into her car seat, and then sitting in the car, sobbing.  I have no idea how long I cried.  From the back seat, my little girl’s voice kept repeating, “I’m sorry mommy.  I’m sorry.”

She was only being a child.  She was following an impulse to be playful, with no idea of how dangerous the world in which we lived was.

I was reminded of this episode this past week as news of the depraved actions of our border authorities taking children away from families seeking asylum began to appear.  These are families who know full well how dangerous the world is, who make long, arduous, life-threatening journeys to a country, The United States, which they imagine and hope will offer them a safety that they have rarely known, a place to make a home, to raise their families and live in peace.

Instead, their children are ripped from them, and they are themselves held in prison-like facilities for extended periods of time.  The dream they had of a world of welcome and peace is shattered, and now they have no idea if they will ever see their children again.  The children themselves are being warehoused, living in trauma, and we are now told that these facilities are drugging the children with high doses of psychotropic drugs – forcibly – I assume to keep them from screaming and crying and expressing the trauma that they are experiencing.

I remembered – with a full visceral reliving – the terror and helplessness I felt in those brief moments when I thought my child was lost to me.  I know what these parents felt in those first few minutes of shock.  But my ordeal lasted only a few moments.  What if that tall man, instead of handing my child back to me, ran through those glass doors into the parking garage with her, and my child disappeared?  What if I was restrained by others who prevented me from even attempting to follow, to chase after her?  What if I were thrown into a detention facility myself with no one who could tell me what had happened to my child?

 (Photo of native children confined in an "Indian School" from Equal Justice Initiative)

For many of us, it is beyond comprehension that the United States of America could be guilty of such actions.  For others, however, it presents an opportunity to remind everyone that this is, in fact, a continuation of policy that gave us the Pratt Schools, where native children were torn from their families and forced into institutions where they were forced to assimilate to the “American” dictates.  Places where the “Indian” was beaten out of them, and where many children died of abuse, illness and despair.  Of course, the practices during times of slavery in the U.S. included separating families and children, selling children away from their parents, selling fathers away from their families.   What about child labor, where many children were living in squalor, working more than 12 hours a day – essentially being worked to death?  How about the Japanese internment camps?

It doesn’t take long to realize that what appears to be a shocking new turn toward evil in the USA is, in fact, just a refashioned, very old policy that shows no mercy, no compassion, no love for the “other” among us.   It is a deep depravity that is more truly American than any of the fairy tales repeated about our welcome of immigrants, or our love of democracy.

We have to face the reality of our own history fully, without turning away.  Those of us who are horrified by what we are seeing happening to these immigrant families must acknowledge both the current expression of our country’s inhumanity and our long, dark history of that same behavior.   We have to work to end the immediate evils.  But we can’t stop there.  We have to work to pull out the root and stem of this evil, if that is possible.  I don’t know if it is, since our country was born of genocide, built by slaves, grown by exploitation and cruelty, and has a large number of citizens who remain in willful in denial about what we owe to those we’ve harmed, or what we must do to right ourselves as a nation.  The challenges are great, and the goals may not be achievable.  But those "better angels of our nature" call out to us.  We have to try.  There are many of us willing to take action to oppose the continuation of these evils.  Look around you:  see which religious organizations are involved in appropriate activism, join organizations that focus on human rights and direct action.  Write to your representatives.  Make phone calls.  Attend demonstrations.  Do whatever you can with whatever talents and abilities you have, with whatever gifts you can share.  Without rebuilding this country entirely, none of our children are safe.  There is no justification for what our government is doing now, or the crimes against humanity it has committed in the past. But it is essential to understand that rebuilding this country is not possible until we tear this old country down.  The evils and practices of that old America have to die in order that a new country dedicated to the well-being of all life can be born.  Don’t turn away.  Don’t go back to sleep.  We need you.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

On a Refusal to Blog

                                                Evgeny Chirikov, by Ivan Kulikov, 1904

It’s 3 in the afternoon on one of the first really gorgeous spring days in Philadelphia.  I’ve opened my windows for the first time in a few weeks because the tree pollen count is horribly high, there are trees beneath my bedroom window, and I have terrible allergies.  Last week, I had a singing performance to give, and was being extremely careful guarding my voice – so no dairy, no alcohol, no outdoors exposure to pollen, lots of steaming with eucalyptus, drinking throat coat.  This week, with the performance behind me, I have returned to enjoying some dairy.  Okay….a LOT of dairy at first – a cheese board, ice cream, more cheese, more ice cream -- which has since modulated itself.

I’ve determined to enjoy the outdoors, or at the very least, enjoy letting the outdoors in at times when I have work to accomplish at my computer.  So, this morning, I opened my windows wide, after checking the tree pollen count and being informed that it was “very high”.  I really didn’t need to check the weather channel to know that. In a very short time, my sinuses and ears closed up, my breathing became raspy, my sneezing began and escalated.  But I was determined.  I powered through with tissues and saline nose spray and steaming a bit – just so that I could keep those darn windows open.  But, eventually, the allergy attack subsided, my breathing returned to normal, the sneezing stopped.

And then, through the window came the songs of birds in those troublesome trees.  The glory of an oboe, being played and practiced upon by a neighbor across the street.  Then a clarinet.  The man plays several woodwind instruments, I thought....Good for him! And good for the rest of us, who get to listen as he rehearses. The smells of cooking from the many restaurants below (there are four on the block, three more around the corner to the north, another five or six if you continue straight down my street….you get the picture.) A broken-hearted child sobbing to his mother, “But I want my ‘nana!  I want to eat my ‘nana now!  Can I please hold my ‘nana?”  This was followed by neighbors greeting each other, and their dogs staging a bark-off.  Then, the music of young girls’ voices, in unison, singing the famous Whitney Houston song, “I Wanna Dance With Somebody”.   It was a typical beautiful spring day on South Street in Philadelphia.

Life was coming through my window, as I sat working on some research and some writing, planning a day of full “occupation”, determining which physical exercise to do, which projects to work on, which correspondence needed my attention.  Yes, it is Saturday.  Yes, I work every day. But the word “work” is something that deserves exploration (and I’ll explore it on these pages at some point soon.)  When you are occupied in ways that offer satisfaction, provide hope and anticipation, there is little to find unpleasant.

But this morning, I was thinking about something I found unpleasant: “blogging”.

First, I was thinking about how I don’t like the word “blog”, although I have several blogs of my own, covering various topic areas: arts, education, culture and aesthetics.  I’m not sure if this is a form of synesthesia or not, but the word has a sticky, unpleasant tactile feel to it, a creepy feel.  The word itself is unpleasant to my ear, sounding like “blah” with a gag sound afterward:  “blah-guh”, and feels unpleasant in my throat when I say it.  Unpleasant in my head when I think it.

So, the idea of “blogging” summons up this feeling of “gagging up” undigested ideas and thoughts. Not something I find particularly pleasant to think about, and certainly unpleasant to do.

Instead, I enjoy creating writing that is more crafted, more polished, more essay-like.  But therein, of course, is the challenge.  These sites are meant to support regular sharing of ideas and thoughts, not carefully crafted, longer essays, right?  But to me, my preferences are more lofty, more artistic in their inclinations.  So, this morning, I gave myself permission to refuse the “blog” form with all the disgusting implications it brings up for me.  But, then, how to provide more regularly shared thoughts and ideas? How to conceptualize what it is I offer if I provide those shorter forms?  If I write only in long form that takes a good amount of time, my sites sit empty for long stretches of time, feeling like the empty halls of an abandoned home.  What to do? Thinking of other creative short-form models, I thought: there is the lieder rather than the etude, prelude or concerto.  There is the prose poem rather than the epic.  There is flash fiction rather than the short story, novella or novel.  

Those brief offerings bring gifts too – a different kind of presence on the page.  It is a brief flare of light rather than a long, steady glow.  A flash of illumination can suggest a fuller vision, but the vision itself is not revealed for the reader…or for that matter, for the writer.  Instead, that “flash” invites each person to explore what their own experience of illumination might be, to travel their own darkened paths to their own greater experience of light….enlightenment…their own visions.  Think of a mantra, or a koan.  The finger pointing at the moon.  

It occurred to me that each of those experiences I spoke of above – the child’s tearful lament about his banana, the group of singing girls, the neighbor alone in his apartment, standing by the window, practicing his oboe.  Each of these offer glimpses of deep and expansive life, each suggests provocative mysteries and promise powerful truths.  Each is a prompt for a story, an inspiration for a dance, a flash of promise, like a many-colored bird darting deep into the bush.  

So, I think I’ll be exploring such moments here in addition to the longer pieces, because there is a kind of beauty in that darting bird, that brief phrase of music. In fact, there just might be a particular kind of beauty in such things that can be found nowhere else.

I just won't be calling it a blog.  

Monday, March 26, 2018

Life With the Lost Boys, Reviewed

(Photo from cast of "Hook")

UPDATE:  I wrote the original post in 2014, and am reviewing and updating it largely because I am struck by how the situation of 4 years ago has, in some ways become worse and, in others, is finally being addressed by large and very vocal populations of women who are at long last seeing overdue consequence happening to some of the worst of these predators.

The original article, updated:

I begin with a warning.  This writing pulsates with hostility for which I do not apologize.  I started with a desire to acknowledge the recent discussions of the ways in which women in 2018 are still harassed, disrespected, molested, raped, and generally brutalized. The #YesAllWomen movement of a few years ago has morphed into the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, all of which have raised the issues of misogyny, sexual predators, and continued female struggles powerfully and revealed what most women already know, but seldom descry so loudly – that this abuse of women remains widespread, constant and socially condoned.   The personal exploration this invited was one that has brought me to a place of long-held anger, and some of the things I have to say are not befitting of the socially-accepted “nice” girl image we women are taught to maintain.   In some places, you may feel that I am painting with too sweeping a stroke, making the reviled “broad generalization”.  That’s your prerogative.

I remember the first time I became aware of the brutal male gaze, and the male objectification of females. It was way back in Paxon Hollow Junior High School, a suburban school in Marple Township, Pennsylvania.  Every morning, the boys would line up at the entrance door and yell out their “grades” for the girls’ attractiveness as we entered.  They would also yell out why the girl got a “low” grade:  “Fat butt!”, “Moustache and body hair!”, “Flat chested!”  or “Falsies!”

None of the adults tried to put an end to this.  Not the teachers, not the vice-principal, not the principal.  No one suggested to these boys that such behavior was unacceptable.  This was in the mid- 1960s.  What came to be called the "second wave" of feminism had already begun.  Women not much older than I was at the time were gathering on college campuses, in homes and coffee houses to discuss taking action against the misogyny and sexism of our society.  But, apparently, these ideas had not found their way to Paxon Hollow Junior High School.

The behavior of these boys caused more anxiety and humiliation than I could bear at age twelve,  because although I was gifted academically, and considered intellectually “advanced”, I was painfully shy and timid, and extremely introverted.  I walked the circumference of the school every single morning and entered through the gym doors in the back, which were always open because of the early-morning practice sessions of whatever sport was in season.  After this went on for a while, my gym teacher, Miss Kostenbader, pulled me aside one day to question me about it.  I told her the reason, and she was incensed.  She tried to make an issue of it, in order to put an end to it, not only for me, but for all of the girls.  The boys, she told me, had no right to behave that way, and should be stopped.  But Miss Kostenbader had no influence.  She was not a “gym-teacher-cutie”.  She was what one of the male gym teachers called a “She-Man Jock” – which was reason enough for her voice on this matter to be entirely ignored.  It showed me something more disturbing than the freedom of those boys to humiliate the girls on a daily basis.  It showed me that even adult women had no voice or power that wasn’t gifted to them by men, and only then if those men deemed the woman “worthy” by their own standards of measurement.   It also showed me that the other women weren't rallied to Kostenbader's argument, and allowed her to stand alone.

Thinking about this episode in my young life, I then traced back the way this message -- about the importance of beauty and appeal -- existed much earlier.  Even when I was in elementary school, my parents were approached often about how “cute” I was, and told that they should “model me” because there was lots of money to be had.  At our swim club in the summer I was badgered because I wouldn’t join the yearly “beauty contest”.

My father didn’t understand my reticence, and asked  “Why? Are you afraid you won’t win?”

It was beyond my ability to articulate at that time, and clearly beyond his ability to comprehend, that my refusal had something to do with my innate sense of dignity rather than a fear of failing to meet some external standard of beauty.

And here we are in 2018.  Over 50 years have passed.  Women still move through this atmosphere, enduring this message from cradle to coffin. And far too many men still feel that it is their inalienable right to remind us of just how well or poorly we are doing adhering to their standards of attractiveness, or to their demands for our acquiescence to their attentions.

HOW is this still widespread and sadly pervasive in 2018?  Because our culture is woven through with many threads all creating a weave that must be entirely unraveled.  No one thread can be removed.

I married relatively young, but that didn’t stop the inappropriate attention of other men.  At first, I was stunned at how there was a continued kind of “tree pissing” activity that went on – how men at parties, even at family events, would place their hands on me, or stand too close, and how my husband either would, through body language, lay claim to me, or how he wouldn’t.  I began to realize that there was a kind of wolf-pack activity that went on in public situations….an alpha-male contest that took place constantly.  This went on even as we got older, and as my husband started practicing law.  At cocktail parties, bench bar conferences, other social/professional events, while he was still a young associate, some of the partners of his firm, or elders in the legal community, would behave inappropriately – putting their arm around me, or doing that thing that men do – sliding the palm of their hand all the way down a woman’s back while talking and acting as if they are doing nothing out of the ordinary.  I began to notice that my husband’s “claiming” behaviors altered, depending on how much more “senior” the lawyer who was groping me was.  I honestly don’t think that he was conscious of the way in which the alpha-male/wolf pack behavior was operating.  But I did take notice that, during those times when he stood and allowed this sexual behavior aimed at his wife,  his anger about the situation would ultimately then, be aimed at me, as if I weren’t the one who had personally endured the disrespect, but I had somehow invited it, and brought dishonor to him.  He began to be more controlling about what dress I wore, or how much makeup I was wearing.  Being in public, then, even as a married woman, didn’t guarantee protection or respect; in fact, it was fraught with the complications of the never-ending male territorial struggle that extends to a woman’s body as terrain.

During the years when I was working from home, raising two children and running our household, I was also constantly fending off the attention of plumbers, electricians, carpenters, landscapers, roofers.  Please don’t misunderstand.  I write this, not as an indication that I was some sort of femme fatale who had a kind of irresistible allure to all men.  I write this to say that no matter what the conditions, no matter what the circumstance, women are not safe from the unwanted attentions of men, even in their own homes.  Even when they are the “boss” paying the invoice.   The term “entitlement” has entered our vocabulary, and has clarified my thoughts on this matter.  Why does a total stranger, called to a home by a woman in the midst of a plumbing crisis, a woman who is simultaneously dealing with two sick children, wearing old jeans and a t-shirt, no make-up and probably some mismatched pair of 1980-style slouch socks, feel that he has the right to be “flirtatious”, or to say inappropriate things like, “I bet when you dress up, you are really hot.”

This is a business transaction, and I’m writing the check, you asshat.  So, fix my fucking plumbing, buddy, and get the hell out.

In other words, Know your place.

And no, I don’t mean “your place” in the patriarchal socio-economic hierarchy of money and status and power.  I mean know that you have no right to make personal comments or overtures of any kind to a woman you do not know.  Didn’t anyone teach you that you should respect a woman the way you would want your mother or sister or daughter respected?  Know your place.  That place is one of a stranger who should practice courtesy and respect and deference to another human being; it is what we should all practice in regard to each other.  There are levels of intimacy which have to be earned, and you haven’t made it through the first gate.  In fact, you are in the far distant field, so much an outsider that you are barely visible.  Know your place.

And yet, as women, we often don’t even register the inappropriate behavior; or, if we feel it, we don’t reveal our anger.  Instead we smile that perfunctory smile all women know.  We change the subject, as many times as is necessary, since most men don’t “get” that we are not willing to entertain the conversation they want to initiate.  We endure the unwanted, untoward, inappropriate.  We endure the public bullying.  That gauntlet we junior high school girls had to pass each morning at Paxon Hollow Junior High is exactly what we endure for the remainder of our lives, walking past a construction site, or any gathering of men – whether it’s at the office coffee maker or at a train station or bus stop.  The menace grows with the men who follow us, verbally harass us, try to paw at us, or threaten us with attack or rape.   This is what the #MeToo actions brought into the light so powerfully, when millions of women spoke up about their own personal experiences of sexual harassment, sexual threat, sexual abuse.  The powerful men of Hollywood, of the media, were exposed as sexual predators and many of them lost their positions.  But I echo what many other women said -- it was the privilege of those women celebrities and stars who were listened to-- not because they were telling the truth, but because they were celebrities and stars.  And because the media felt it financially savvy to publish articles about this, for the resulting financial gain.    The high-profile men of all occupations are predators; that isn't news to any woman.  But there are predatory men in every walk of life, using what little power or influence they might have to force their attentions on women who often have little power to fight back.

Some of the more radical feminists of the second wave claimed that all men are inherently rapists.  Ti-Grace Atkinson once wrote that marriage is nothing more than accepting a permanent relationship with your rapist.   I understand her point more and more as the years go on.  It’s not only about the physical act of rape.  It’s about our rape culture which sees everything you are, everything sacrosanct about your self, your being, as that which can and should be plundered.  It’s the way those in positions of dominance treat everything and everyone who comes within their reach.  It’s suggested that this is the permeation of capitalist values, or as some would now call it, neoliberalism, or free market fundamentalism.  Everything is commodity, everything is there to be pillaged.  It begins with the patriarchy, which has found its full flower in the vicious brutality of unchecked capitalism.

It’s there, at the very earliest stages of our culture.  For instance, the Iliad begins with Achilles storming off the field of battle, not because of a dispute about a war that raged senselessly for ten years, but about Agamemnon’s claim of Briseus, the woman Achilles saw as his rightful war booty.

Does this behavior, this objectification and commodification of women, have its roots in the earliest stages of the hetero-patriarchy, or as a friend of mine recently suggested, the kyriarchy (meaning a social system or set of connecting social systems built around domination, oppression, and submission)?

If so, then we have to address the socio-cultural issues of these entrenched values of domination, oppression and submission in a larger sense in order to begin to successfully undo the treatment women in 2018 still endure.  We have to dismantle and rebuild our socio-economic systems entirely.  I’ll use the term hetero-kyriarchy here, to indicate that the issue is with straight men, largely, who see it not only as their right to abuse women, but also to abuse men whose sexual orientation is not the same as their own.  (That extends, sadly, to the male-identified women who absorb and imitate those values.  You know who they are.)

Or, I wonder, do the roots of this behavior go even deeper than a socio-economic system?  Is it possible, with the patriarchal cultures that gained dominance through their wars, their weapons, that the primordial roots of male behavior were given free rein?  In other words, is it possible that this is inherent nature, encoded somehow in the hetero-male dna?

If that is the case, then we have to acknowledge something even more dire.  We can no longer allow the heterosexual male a place in the halls of power -- not in the legislature, or in the gleaming towers of finance, or in the rooms where war and peace are measured and weighed, or in the palaces of commerce.  If the primordial hunger of the hetero-male is for domination, oppression and submission, then they can’t be trusted to share governance over a society of peace, shared prosperity, social good, high culture.  Consider this.  We see evidence of what I’m saying in the ways in which women’s bodies are treated as male territory by (primarily male) lawmakers and judges, even sometimes by doctors themselves. We see a rampant disrespect for the earth, for all forms of life by corporations run by these men – a rape of our environment and of nature.  We see the actions of the plundering culture in the behaviors of Wall Street, again largely run by this same sort of men.  It exists in the domination practiced through imperialism and colonization, through these endless, devastating wars.

I can hear the yowls of protest even as I type this.  The cry of “not all men are like this” rings through the air.  I know; yes, that’s true.  But far too many are like this. So even though there are “good guys” out there (I even know a few), I suggest that these “good guys” in a patriarchal/kyriarchal/capitalist world are as weak, powerless and without effect as the liberals and progressives of both genders are in our current society.  Without clear identity, sinking into the shadows, lacking a powerful narrative or plan, you guys may as well not exist at all for all the good you do to redeem your gender or help the rest of us save our world.

So, what is to be done?  I admit:  my personal response to these issues has been somewhat unusual.  I’ve entirely withdrawn.  This year marks the fourteenth anniversary of the night that I decided to go solitary, and to, essentially, marry myself.  I even performed a private ceremony.  It was sometime around the Summer Solstice of 2004.

Yes, I have been happily man-free for nearly fifteen years.  Women have been doing this for centuries.  In the Middle Ages, aristocratic women would retire to abbeys after their children had grown, to live out their years in peace.  Eleanor of Aquitaine did it; in fact, many of the Plantagenet women did it.  And can you blame them, given the brutality of the Plantagenet men?

It wasn’t as if I didn’t try to find a healthy and positive relationship.  When my marriage ended, I attempted to date, even had two “long-term” relationships which I ultimately ended.  But it hasn’t been until this decade of my life, where I have chosen to be a renunciate of the so-called “romantic relationship”, that I feel as though I belong fully and completely to myself.  During this time, I’ve shepherded both my beloved children into their successful adulthood years.  I’ve completed an additional graduate degree.  I’ve taught Humanities courses to thousands of undergraduate students.  I’ve grown my arts organization (Hidden River Arts) so that it now includes live arts events, cultural outreach programs, workshops, classes, tutorials, literary competitions and an independent small press and a blog.  I’ve written and published a collection of short stories, Other Likely Stories. I’ve completed the first of a trilogy of historical novels and “roughed out” the other two parts. I’ve written a contemporary novel, and am half-way through completion of a suspense novel and another novel of historical fiction. I’ve started a second collection of short stories, called Crossing the Line. The first short story of this new collection, "Do It Yourself Finishing School" can be read online at Adelaide Literary Magazine.  Another "Beverly at the Fair" is forthcoming at Stoneboat Literary Journal.  I’ve revised two full-length plays and written a new one; I’ve written three short plays.  And yes, they’ve all been performed.  I’ve written two short screenplays which have become short films.   I’ve been working on a feature-length documentary and companion book, both of which should be finished within the next few months. I’ve traveled the country giving lectures, readings, screenings, conducting interviews. After several decades of only singing around the house, I've returned to singing publicly, in cabaret, as one of the voices of Cabaret Divas.  I’ve formed wonderful, creative, productive, joyful friendships with truly magnificent people.  I’ve moved from the suburbs back into the city, where I’m enjoying the vibrancy, the energy, the opportunities of the arts, culture and society.  Life is very good, I find, when it is man-free.

I’m not saying that this is every woman’s best choice, but it has certainly been a good choice for me. I’m an artist, a writer, an educator, an activist. And this is the first time in my life that I’ve been able to be those things without any pushback from some guy telling me that I’m not giving him enough time or energy.  It’s been my experience that the men with whom I enter into long-term relationships all have the same things in common: a genuine alpha-male profile with entrenched narcissism and self-absorption, and a side order of dictatorial tendencies.  They are charming and romantic and exciting, until they don’t get their way.  Then they became bullies and wardens.  Their needs were more important than mine.  Their schedules more important than mine.  Their work certainly more important than mine. Their bank accounts were bigger, which was offered as proof of all those other assertions.

I wondered: was I just attracted to the wrong sort of man? The alpha-male of the neoliberal capitalist world is hardly the most enlightened choice. Maybe the fault was with me.  But, I don’t think so. I scanned back over the other men I had dated after my divorce.

They were Peter Pan’s Lost Boys.  All of them.

There was the one who brought his ten-year-old son on our dates, and talked about how his “other girlfriends” couldn’t stand the fact that his ex-wife lived in a cottage on his property, and vacationed with him.  Another who ripped my blouse and whipped out his penis at the end of our “date”, and said, “Wouldn’t it feel good if you sucked this?”  A third who showed up for a dinner date dressed in the sweaty t-shirt and shorts he wore when he mowed the lawn, who proceeded to get stinking drunk as he told me how much he couldn’t stand shiksas like his ex-wife and was happy to finally be dating a Jewish woman – completely oblivious to the fact that I was raised as an Episcopalian.

There were those who wanted a harem of women in competition with each other over that golden male attention.  Those who thought buying a woman a cup of coffee entitled them to sex.  Those who assessed your weight and age, out loud, despite the fact that they were paunchy, slovenly and at least a decade older than you.  Or, on the other hand, those who wanted to immediately plan a life together.  (Sometimes during the initial exchange of emails.)  Those who assessed the size and status of your home, the value of your job, even the model of your car.

Not a worthy man among them, in my opinion.  So, okay.  I’ll admit that my idea of a worthy man these days is Liam Neeson, as Rob Roy.  Unless you’re exceptionally good at fighting with medieval weaponry and look hot in a kilt, that’s hard to live up to.  However -- what I find truly attractive in a character like Rob Roy is his devotion to his wife and family, his honor and integrity, his willingness to stand up to wickedness, even risking his own life in order to fight the honorable fight.   But the guys I've known? It doesn’t matter how old they are.  Far too many are pathetic cases of arrested development, stuck in some adolescent stage where navel-gazing, self-importance, tantrums and frat boy behavior seem perfectly acceptable to them.  In fact, they are damned happy with themselves.   We see this in our government, and certainly in our current president.  We see it in the executive offices of every major corporation.  We see it in the military.  We see it everywhere in a socio-cultural climate where sociopathy is rewarded richly.

These Lost Boys try to wow you with their income, their professional position, their new Mercedes (or their Harley and its straight pipes), their ability to bench press some ridiculous amount of weight, their summer share in Antigua.    They never wake up to the fact that acquisition is not the same as achievement. That material success is not the same as maturity.  That wealth is not the same as wisdom.  In fact, it’s been my experience that these things are actual deterrents to real growth.

Pull the lens back further and you realize:  These men don’t know their place because they don’t know themselves.  They mistake all the things our culture has told them give them privilege, their heterosexual male-ness, their assets and acquisitions,  for the stuff of real value. Yes, this is a culture that provides men -- particularly, of course, white men -- with far too much entitlement; but it is also a culture which has denied them a working knowledge of their souls.  It is that combination which is truly deadly.  Why?  Because the world is changing, and these child-men feel as though everything they’ve been taught to value, everything they’ve understood as theirs by right, including their right to vulgarize all experiences of life, is being threatened.  Their very identities and existence are under threat.

The Lost Boys Starring in the Lord of the Flies:

This is where we talk about the issue of guns.  The issue of white men and guns.  The issue of young white men who are mass murderers with their automatic assault weapons.  The issue of guns as phallus extensions.  The issue of guns as an extension of the rampant and endless sexual aggression. The issue of guns as an expression of the kind of violent, abusive masculinity that is held up as the shining example of alpha-malehood in America.   The issue of “rape culture” extending far beyond the tragedy of women and the constant threat they face.  It’s about a culture in which “rape” extends to the rape of the consumer, the rape of the environment, the rape of the natural resources of other countries.  Rape.  The violent taking of what does not belong to you.

There will be another post focusing entirely on the issues of guns in America where these ideas will be explored more fully.  But for the time being, let me just say that when we focus on the issues of white male prerogative in regard to the female body, to his right to take what he wants no matter what, his right to overpower, violate and exult in this behavior, we are talking about a very serious issue that is yet a microcosm of the larger world in which this behavior reproduces itself again and again.

Because, even when they aren’t following you down the street, cat-calling, or groping you in an elevator, or saying “Smile, honey!” as you walk down your block, the Lost Boys are behaving like boy-savages, ravaging our society, our economy, our country, and our world.. They veer from one pursuit to another, never satiated or satisfied, never recognizing limits, or understanding that there is a soul’s hunger beneath the faux-hunger created by Madison Avenue or Wall Street or the Pentagon or the NRA.  A growing need for ever-more high-risk behaviors characterizes the “dominant” men of our culture; and our culture rewards their actions by protecting them from the ruinous consequences of their behavior, “externalizing” the cost of it onto those less powerful. On a personal level,  it's been my experience that, when you attempt to enter into actual relationship with men who operate within this value system, their callous risks and endless demands threaten to overwhelm your life, just as they threaten and overwhelm the world at large.  These men are predators.  They are a cancer.  

For years, I’ve been convinced that the karmic reason so many marriages of my generation failed was so that a whole generation of second wave feminist- enlightened women could raise their sons free of the daily Lost Boy/Lord of the Flies influence.  But I wonder, now that our sons are young adults:  have we succeeded?   I hope that we have, but remain unconvinced.  I'm witnessing men in their late 30s and 40s acting like they are in the cast of Mad Men.  These men were raised on violent video games, many of which not only numbed them to violence itself but sexualized that violence so that their young minds equated violent action with sexual pleasure.

Reading the #YesAllWomen stories,  then, four years later, the #MeToo stories, seeing the way that campus rape is rampant (and oh so protected), hearing the stories of my female students, watching how women are still portrayed in movies, tv shows, talk shows, commercials, print ads – I’m feeling as though my generation of women may have failed.  How long will it take, and how far must we go-- must we completely dismantle this society in order to fix these evils?   I say yes, since that society is pornographic at all levels.  It is obscene and vulgar at all levels.  There is little held to be sacrosanct or sacred.  Little thought to honorable behavior or ethical action.

Obviously, it takes many generations of effort to change a deeply entrenched acculturated “reality”. We’re talking about something older than the works of Homer, for God’s sake.  We’ll continue to work toward goals of equality, of respect and courtesy, of safety. But, if #YesAllWomen and #MeToo are any indication, we're not going to be so polite about asking for those things.  With four years between those movements, we see that there has been progress.  Men have met with consequences -- albeit after decades of being protected in their vicious behaviors.  Really pissed off, determined women are rising around the world, not only to push back against the physical brutalities we endure at the hands of men, but to fight against the corporatization of our larger lives, against the pervasive war-mongering that ruins our economies, our cities, our children’s safety. In other words, we fight against the wide-spread suffering caused by the hetero-kyriarchy in the broadest sense.  There are signs of progress. And, the most hopeful I've been in a long time is due to the newest movement of young people, rising up to fight the callous uncaring of our government against gun violence in our country.   The March For Our Lives event took place only this past weekend, and it was planned, run and attended by our youth -- those as young as 11 who spoke publicly against the culture holding us all hostage, subjecting us to trauma and fear on a daily basis.  Their march was the largest since the D.C. march against Vietnam - and it was replicated in major cities around the country and around the world.  Young people of all economic, social, racial, religious and sexual backgrounds came together and raised their voices.  Young women and young men refusing to be silent in the face of a culture that elevates violence and protects the weapons of violence - whether that is a man's penis or a man's gun.

Still, we have a long, long way to go; we can’t stop now. These young people will register to vote and may very well change the country through the voting process.  But voting has proven itself to be of little help without the choice of candidates who stand with the citizens and not the special interests, corporations and lobbies. We can't back down or consider modulating our tone.  The generations of frustrated, angry women who are out of all patience – from grandmothers to middle school girls -  those saying, #TimesUp, have to come together with a new generation of youth who are fed up with the violence and vulgarity of the country in general,  to demand more sovereignty over themselves and their lives, to refuse to endure these miserable conditions for one more moment.  Whether it is the continued brutality of a hetero-kyriarchal culture, or a more deeply ingrained core hetero-male behavior, we need to see this Lost Boy/Lord of the Flies behavior and the culture that encourages it for every horrible thing it is, identify everywhere it is, and continue to shine a harsh light, exposing it in all its many forms until we can overcome its pervasive existence.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

To All the Fatherless Women on Father's Day

You know who you are.  Those of us who begin to feel a deep kind of sadness surface as Father's Day approaches, who realize that the sadness is always there, deep within, every day of our lives. 

He can be alive somewhere, or he can be gone, but he was never really there.  At least not for you.  You were invisible.  Or disappointing.  Or simply too unimportant.  He's the reason, the therapists tell you, that your relationships with men are largely and often completely fucked.  Why you chase the unavailable man, or the man who judges and shames you, the one who disregards you, and tells you it's all your fault. 

He's the reason you find it hard to trust anyone, or believe in yourself.  He's the reason you are too easily swayed by external judgments about your beauty, your intellect, your worthiness.  He's the reason you have Superwoman syndrome and a drive to be perfect, coupled with the crippling fear of your own deep and abiding imperfection. 

There are millions of us, you know.  In fact, despite all those "Happy Father's Day, Daddy" messages that clog social media,  the women who had loving, supportive, proud fathers are in the minority.  We are an army of wounded women - carrying the fatherless wound into our adult lives.  It doesn't matter how old you are, either.  Inside of you there is a deeply wounded, mournful little girl who needs to be acknowledged and loved. 

And since the reality is that your father will never heal the wound he left you with, it falls to you, yourself to begin a process of healing so that you don't expect anyone else to be responsible for fixing that gaping hole in your psyche. 

There is writing about this, of course, since there is writing about every subject.  H. Norman Wright's book, Healing the Father Wound is one.  The book talks about "father-shaped holes" and different unhealthy ways in which fatherless girls respond to their wounding.  Some become promiscuous, confusing sex with love; others go in the opposite direction and become asexual, never able to trust intimacy.  There is the superwoman syndrome -- always pushing yourself to have the 4.0 GPA, or the most billable hours, or the most perfect body - and sometimes ALL of those things and more.  There is anger management difficulty, and boundary issues, on-going depression, the wreckage of failed relationships.  A full review of the book can be read here:  Healing the Father Wound

Other books include Pamela Thomas's Book Fatherless Daughters: Turning Power to Forgiveness. 
To tell you the truth, the sentiment leaves me cold.  I like the idea of drawing our own power from the terrible wounding of childhood; I do not like the idea of forgiveness.  To hell with forgiveness. 
Jonetta Rose Barras provides a racial focus, talking about the black woman's struggle with fatherlessness in  Whatever Happened to Daddy's Little Girl  A review of Barras's book can be read here.

So, it's probably a good idea to check out the advice available.  Become aware of those fairly typical behaviors found in the fatherless daughter.  Work to heal them, and to correct any behaviors that can be causing you further harm.   Get help if you need it.  You are worthy of being happy, whatever that takes. 

And when Father's Day comes around, celebrate yourself instead.  Celebrate your strength, your beauty, your unique abilities.  Realize that your father's imperfections and inabilities, your father's failures are in your past, and don't have to define anything about you or your life now. 
Then, resolve to make that true. 

We are an army of wounded women, but we are also survivors.  We might carry our wounds like shrapnel, but we can move through these experiences and gain a lot of strength and wisdom.  Shift your perspective away from what you didn't get, try seeing how your own strengths developed to make you unique and strong.  Be proud of the strength that rose up within you as a guide; be compassionate about the frailties you carry as you work to heal them.   As for gratitude or forgiveness for the father who created the wound -- no way.  I'm not grateful that my father was too much of a narcissist to care for anyone beside himself.  I don't forgive his cruelty or coldness, his judgmental perfectionism, his emotional absence.  Fathers like this don't deserve anything but condemnation and shame, not just on Father's Day, but every day of their lives.