Tuesday, November 25, 2014

I am not in enough trouble to warrant police attention.

Four reasons to be grateful, right here.
There's a line in "TheMan with Two Brains" when widower Steve Martin is trying to figure out if a new relationship is a mistake. He appeals to a portrait of his deceased wife: 
"Just give me a sign." 
The house shakes, lights blow, the portrait spins, there is moaning, "No! No! No!"
"Just any kind of sign," says Steve Martin.

I've been thinking about gratitude. 

I am grateful. My God knows that I am. And when my God turns out an extra effort - when my children travel safely from one place to another, or a friend's bad luck turns around, or a biopsy comes back negative, or a loved one soldiers through a tough stretch and falls into feathers - I am extra grateful.
And, when bad things do happen, I don't ask my God to "take care of it," because my God is not a genie or Samantha from Bewitched. I just ask for strength.
Here's another
We count our blessings, I shared with my God, but we take them for granted, too. We get used to our blessings. If too much goes right for too long, complacency is what happens next, when we are surprised by things that go wrong and maybe even a little pissed off.
And so, my God, I wondered, how shall I say thank-you?
A few minutes into this pre-dawn exchange, a siren rose, and was followed by another. We are a tiny town. We rarely have sirens – or, as Officer Bubba refers to them, si-reens – and it seemed appropriate to pause. 

Was this my Steve Martin sign? Well, maybe not, but I've decided to make it one. 
Because, while I don't feel guilty about my good fortune, I am wondering about someone in my town, right now, who is in enough trouble to warrant police attention. It's not me.
According to my God, that is because gratitude isn't always about what is, as much as what isn't. 
To wit:
I am not in enough trouble right now to warrant police attention. 

Nor am I without power, or a laptop, or heat, or food.
I didn't leave the door open last night and lose the cat.
"You'd better not lose me."
Or wake up with a hopeless problem
None of my children called to tell me they were laid off or ended a relationship
My parents are not sad or unhealthy
Nobody I love was diagnosed with a terrible illness.
My friends are not in trouble with their lives.
I didn't hurt someone's feelings by mistake.
Everyone I care about is in a place where I can reach them
I am not starting a day of things that will test me, or my character, or my sense of humor.
There is not a single abusive person I must deal with in my life.
I am not going to a job that I hate.
A Mummy to be grateful for

Gratitude is sometimes what isn't.
And so, I plan to show my gratitude this week:

I'll smile at a nervous teenager in a new job.
And show an elderly person kindness who doesn't expect it.
I'll buy a card and send it to someone who is down but doesn't know why
And listen to someone carefully enough to hear what they aren't saying.
I'll tell someone out of the blue, not that I love them, but why.
I'll remember that up or down, everything is right now.
I'll say to young parents who are teaching small children to respect others: "Nice job. Really."
And let someone go in traffic
I'll answer the phone when a friend or family member calls, no matter what.
I'll look harder, hug and smile more. 
I'll seize moments I often let fly from my life, forgotten.

It is against the law to include fewer than two pictures of 
Gus in any post where he is mentioned at all.

I'll remember it's the tiniest of unasked for gestures that make a person know they have been noticed, and heard.

To my husband, children, friends, family, and with all my heart, to readers who have found this blog Worth Mentioning, it's not enough, but just the same...
Thank you.

Monday, November 10, 2014

In whose eyes?

When I was a young professional in Boston, I couldn't commute to work without passing construction sites, doorways, or canteen trucks where clutches of men hung out every day. Whether they were black, white, Latino or striped, I knew I was going to be noticed and hasselled. 

When the attention came, it was not flattering. It was not affirming. I didn't feel more attractive because these men found me "hot". It made my heart race, and one late evening, it made me cry to think I might not reach my car without help.

It didn't get easier just because it happened all the time. When a man calls out, when another joins in, your normal radar becomes skewed and you are always aware that the worst could happen as easily as it probably won't. 

And it hasn't changed. "I keep my head down," says my oldest daughter, who teaches violin to inner city kids in Cleveland, "and one hand on my pepper spray." Said my younger daughter, whose former commute required her to travel a stretch between the bus and subway in Boston, "It gets sketchy." 

In my reading last week, the subject of unwanted attention that you must deal with was interestingly juxtaposed against the attention that you can't get anymore.

On one hand, the now gone-viral "catcall video" had been seen, exhaustively dissected and in inevitable backlash, critiqued for its racially selective portrayal of what women really confront when they walk the city.  (Long story short, people wondered why the white douchebags had been edited out, possibly leaving the impression that only blacks and Latinos were doing the "calling". Well, not only isn't that the impression we probably have, but here's an example of a white uber-douchebag, who is probably more of a threat than those guys on the street because he is also rich and self-important).

Later that day. 

In a piece called, "The Case of the Vanishing Woman: Ayelet Waldman on the Invisibility of Turning 50", Cafe.com writer Deborah Copaken detailed her conversation with Ayelet Waldman – an intelligent, funny, and insightful writer – about this notion of becoming, as Ms. Waldman refers to it, "invisible". 

When I say I read this piece as if I expected to be blown away by a brilliant punch line – because, really, she couldn't be serious – I'm not kidding. But here is a quote:

"There's this whole thing going on right now about guys in the street harassing women," said Ms. Waldman, referring to the catcall video. "I get that, when you're a young woman, it can be really demoralizing to walk through the streets of New York ...and yet, I am so flattered when that happens to me at this point. It's so sad, because I'm a feminist! It’s ridiculous, I know. But when somebody says to me, "Oh, sweetie, you're shakin'!" I feel like, "Okay, I still got it!"

She's not alone.

Tira Harpaz is a graduate of Princeton University and Fordham Law School and the mother of three children. She was formerly a Senior Attorney at Davis Polk & Wardwell and she is currently the founder and president of CollegeBound Advice, an independent college counseling firm.

Last year, Ms. Harpaz made an observation similar to Ayelet Waldman's in her piece for Salon.com. "The first time I felt invisible was on a train to New York City, about nine years ago. As I eased into the end seat of a three-seat row, the 30-something man sitting in the window seat glanced up at me. It was a brief glance, but it conveyed disappointment and complete disinterest...as days and years went by, I realized that the look was everywhere."

To hear talented, vital women discuss their fading value in terms of their age or physical appearance  made me wonder:

In whose eyes do we consider ourselves invisible?

I know so many women, fifty and older, who possess such confidence in their histories, skills, gifts, talents, wisdom, presence and intellectual contribution, they don't just turn heads when they walk into a room, they engage minds, and capture hearts.  And I know many confident, bright men, fifty and otherwise, who consider the way a woman feels about herself to be not just sexy, but beautiful.

And I know men who don't.
Who might be attractive.
But who are not sexy.
Or worth the time and preoccupation of women.
Who fear becoming invisible.

It was disturbing enough to know that bright, accomplished women feel endangered by an expiration date, but it was insulting to be spoken for by women who hold this view of  the rest of us. And yet, women agree. Women lament loss of purpose right along with their worsening vision and memories.

Many in my own circle of writer friends co-lamented Ms. Waldman's assertions of "senescence"; some made "half-serious" comments about being  "lucky" if, at a certain age, anyone catcalls you at all.

What is wrong with us?

If we are an ageist society, we are an ageist society because we have allowed others to assess and value us for the wrong things.  But to tell ourselves – and our daughters and sisters and friends and mothers – that "we" women outlive our time of true worth on the planet by about thirty years is worse than an anti-feminist position, it's sexist.

We can be feminists, and ask all the respect and equality in the world. But are we offering it to ourselves, first? Because for better or worse, it is self-perception that is reinforced by the outside world. 

In her Salon piece, Ms. Harpaz discusses the new awareness and perceptions that evolved of the train revelation. They are attitudes I hold myself, but  importantly they are those I hope to see my own daughters cultivate:

"We have to fight or ignore our insecurities and look for opportunities to become visible – run for local office, get on a community board, start a program – and find ways to take control of our lives. I have found that when I reach out to old friends, get involved in activities I’m interested in and share my thoughts through social media or in person, I feel that people are really listening to and seeing me – not the anonymous older woman who is ignored time and time again, but the youthful, creative, interesting me who still lives inside."

Exactly. In other words, be who you know you are – in your own eyes – and not some guy's on the train.