Monday, July 28, 2014

Radicalization of Equality: We Have Met the Enemy and She is Us

I’ve never been one to ignore the gorilla in the room.  Or at least that is what I believed about myself with a great and passionate conviction for a very long time.  Zeal, even.  Life…growing older, marriage, children, divorce, work, etcetera and so on, have this way of eating away at your passions, your conviction and zeal, your very sense of reality and your ability to recognize gorillas, let alone demand them to come clean or get the hell out.  I think it is fair to say during the past decade I might have attempted to groom and dress a few gorillas and pass them off as temporary and ordinary unpleasantries, blips in the primate road toward ever evolving growth.  I believed them to be the type of blips we need to grin and bear to get through.  I did not ignore them, as much as I avoided them or found paths around.  Eventually, however, gorillas can become aggressive, they need to be fed and attended to.  They can no longer be ignored or avoided and suddenly you are face to face with a gorilla in the middle of your living room and you are forced to look around and notice what a mess a gorilla can make.  So you leave, or get eaten alive. Or you become Jane Goodall and convince others why it is perfectly normal to shack up with a gorilla.

I have been noticing that I am ignoring gorillas again.  I can’t say exactly why, but I have some thoughts.  I’m older.  I have less fight or conviction, OK maybe not.  Sadly, I have had a hard time staying committed to, or focused on a great many gorilla-sized issues.  I feel smaller somehow, less able to fight them off and too comfortable, or perhaps complacent to leave, again. It has taken me a very long time to recover from my last gorilla abstraction. Occasionally I get riled enough to growl down a gorilla or two, but I have been finding it simpler? easier? (sigh) less draining to slip into my off-road vehicle and drive quietly around the gorillas again. 

My off-road vehicle might have run out of fuel, or the gorillas have multiplied. I have been hearing too many gorillas.  Maybe you have too. Five of them recently ruled women can’t choose how to personally and privately protect their rights, their bodies, their livelihood, and ultimately their futures without the religious viewpoints of a few limiting their choices.  The very same religious viewpoints that allow for enhanced, prolonged penis erectile medications and/or vasectomies.  I can only imagine the idolatry worshipped at that altar.   WWJD? I can’t imagine what Jesus would do under these circumstances.  His mother was unmarried and pregnant, but she had a few entitlements most of us don’t have ready access to. Religious ideals too often have this detrimental way of being spit out by a few narrow minded, but loud gorillas, and in spite of the fact that the typical U.S. congregation is represented by 61% female attendants and 39% male attendants (with or without erectably functioning penises, peni, well you know what I mean) those viewpoints are typically male centric.  It makes it difficult for some women, to find sanctity and refuge in the very places that might provide comfort, solitude and community.  And now it makes it difficult for women to make private medical decisions about their bodies through their insurance providers. 

A few FOX employed gorillas believe women are doing swell, what with all those laws that are already in place.  You know like those laws against discrimination, and harassment and domestic violence.  The ones that are so easy to bring forward and that much easier to prove.  One such gorilla, Laura Trueman, (can’t make this up…True man?) Anywho, Ms. Trueman believes the proponents of the Paycheck Fairness Act are "stuck in the 70’s, or are looking for political advantages in attempting to present themselves as champions fighting against the War Against Women". 

I consider myself a bit of a soldier in this war, so just when will my damn uniform get here?  My golden cummerbund, stars and stripes bustier and blazing hot bikini briefs were do in 1975, and if I had my Shazam ring or Elvira bangles or whatever those big strong women were clanking together back when it was time to fight the real fight, well maybe I would be permitted to worship in the temple that understands my uterus never had any custom fitted safety mechanisms to naturally abort any old rape baby.   (Psssst Ms. Trueman?  The  Violence Against Women Act was written and signed into place in 1994, in response to the OJ Simpson case.  15 years after those wild and crazy 70’s ended.  Good thing for some of us women that OJ Simpson was just that side of crazy to not quietly kill his estranged wife and leave it at that.  He had to go and make it all public, and well it became that much harder to ignore just how many women ‘stuck in the 70’s’ or not, were being beat to death, choked, or shot each year.  If only we could have stayed in the 50s, put on our pearls, and served up a sweet little cocktail or two, wouldn’t life be better for everyone?)

A few gorillas have been making decisions about the rights and safety of women on college campuses.  Numerous rape cases over the past few years have come out in public view.  Some of these cases were tried and proven in campus courts, (kangaroo courts?) which resulted in unbelievably light convictions to the rapists.  In one case, the rapist was not allowed back on campus after graduation.  In another case the rapist was expelled and when he sued, the college decided that was too harsh.  This case went to the Supreme Court and it was upheld, in spite of the fact the rapist admitted to the rape.  Student rapists are often protected in the name of sporting events and sporting attendance, and well why can’t some of us women just be good sports anyway? We make it harder for everyone when we get raped and then complain about it, or point to those gorillas in our living rooms, campuses, workplaces, and courtrooms.

Sadly, and for reasons I can’t fathom, many of the gorillas that are hurting women are women.  Ape has killed Ape, was a dramatic turning point in Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973) this was the scene that revealed one of the once peaceful, nonviolent apes had turned against the system, the moral code was violated and it changed the course of all Apes.  Maybe a few women felt threatened by all those disgruntled feminist women.  When the term radical was attached to the word feminist there went the whole fight.  Women can’t be radicals.  It is against the moral code.  It would mean we were no longer, peaceful, agreeable, compliant, caregivers, wives of the house, the home, the small and tender children.   

And so, we have met the enemy and she is us.  The fear surrounding being considered a radical feminist practically stopped the Women’s Movement in it’s tracks.  It was the actions of a single woman and her grassroots movement that derailed the Equal Rights Amendment, and set us back some.  Single as in one, not single as in unmarried.  Phyllis Schlafly was married. So very married and traditional. So very traditional that her husband and his salary nicely supported her ability to stay home to raise her six children.  And that alone isn’t so unusual given the time, or any of my business.  But she went on to become a celebrated lawyer, advocate, and politician.   Well damn, that sounds like a pretty traditional girly role to me! I wonder why all those other women that don’t have supportive sugar-daddy bank-rolling good strong husbands, can’t just pipe on down and take care of their kids happily and for the sake of someone’s gonads, quietly!?

According to her very own website, Phyllis Schlafly is America’s best-known advocate of the dignity and honor that we as a society owe to the role of fulltime homemaker.  Now isn’t that just the cats pajamas? Boy howdy, how in fact could more of us little women get to have our cake and eat it all too, and then tell other women they can’t have the same cake we have?  I’m just wondering, because somehow I didn’t get in the same line when they were giving out aprons or husbands, or law degrees.   I’m all for ensuring children get taken care of by both parents.  I didn’t get on that line either.  But not for a minute do I imagine, that a child is not being well-cared for because his/her mother is working outside of the home, or that it causes the break down of the family.

Take a minute to study these two words:  Radical: very new and different from what is traditional or ordinary.   Feminist: of the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities.

Many younger women have been taught the gorilla is the feminist, radical or not.  Or perhaps they were raised by mothers that struggled to balance work and family.  Many younger women were lead to believe the gorillas no longer exist because now, we have laws that protect us from being raped and beat and harassed.  In much the same way we have laws against drinking and driving, and laws against going into a school and opening fire with unregistered guns.  The laws alone don’t change attitudes and behaviors or keep us safe. Girls today are raised to believe they can do anything they want, and they don’t have the social context to know that was not always the case.  There has been a rash of pretty young celebrities that have been speaking out against feminism.  These pyt’s don’t seem to realize they have the opportunities they have because feminists believed they were entitled to those opportunities.  They don’t seem to understand being a feminist does not offer one outcome, it offers choice.  Unfortunately without laws supporting the rights of women, these choices would not be available to women.  We came a long way, baby, but we’re not there yet. 

The Equal Rights Amendment has three sections.  Section 1. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.  Section 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.   Section 3. This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.  It is important to point out Ms. Shlafly fought vehemently against it because she feared that her daughters would become eligible for the draft.  Perhaps her fight was misdirected, in fighting against  the evil of war, she creating the framework for the way many view the current War Against Women, from both sides.  How can we as a nation, 51% of us women, believe the opposite, that it is OK to deny the equality of rights on account of gender?

I recently heard another complaint about how the feminists of the 70s are responsible for the plight of….well just about everything wrong with society today.  Phylis Schlafly and her niece, Suzanne Venker co-wrote the book The Flipside of Feminism.  And I do believe it is important to remind you, thoughtful readers, feminism is once again, or still, the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. What you choose to do with those rights is up to you. I feel, radically strong in my belief that I should have those rights and opportunities.  So if we just slip that in, the title would be The Flipside of Believing Women and Men should have Equal Rights and Opportunities….it would be cumbersome as a title but it would redirect those that believe feminism means something else.  Something menacing, or evil or wrong. Read the following quote from Ms. Venker and just twirl that around your pretty little tendrils for awhile: "The problem is that the majority of women in this country don't have the power—feminists do. And feminists influence liberals as well as conservatives to confirm to the feminist message."  Isn’t the point of feminism to empower all women?  To ensure we have power?  I know, power is a powerful word.  It’s nearly manly.   But let’s take a closer look at that word too, shall we?  

Power:  ability to act or produce an effect.

Do non-feminists really imagine that if women didn’t have the ability to act or produce an effect, that would be a good thing?  If so, Ape is killing the spirit and potential of Ape.
According to the book there are five specific ways that Believing Women and Men should have Equal Rights and Opportunities, or Feminism has ruined America: 

1. It hurt marriage. Women want to wait so that they can keep their identities longer and men are finding easy sex, taking away a big reason for marriage.  Well c’mon sisters if that doesn’t motivate you to give up your identity quicker I don’t know what would.  And is that why we get married, to have easy sex?  Man oh man…I’m thinking that’s not working out for a good many couples.  

2. Undermines child rearing. More kids are in childcare where discipline is lax resulting in an "epidemic" of bad kids, childhood obesity, and bullies.  There seems an easy fix here, give discipline back to the schools and childcare centers.  Maybe reinstate Corporal Punishmen? Mandatory outdoor physical activities… oh heck, when I was a young-un we played outside for hours on end, parents had no idea what we were doing and we came home when we were hungry. Close down the childcare centers and throw the kids back to the streets!

3. Two-income trap. With both husband and wife working it's hard to live without life's luxuries. Yes luxuries like food and rent and childcare.  The vast majority of dual income homes are simply making ends meet and their voices are not involved in much of the rhetoric.  

4. Undermines college sports. Title IX has ended many male-only sports at some colleges.  Ummmm  and… women can play sports too? It doesn’t say it has ended male sports, but has ended many male-only sports.  Maybe there are fewer cheerleaders available?  

5. Emasculates men. It's better to be a wuss than speak up or mouth off and face charges of harassment or chauvinism.  Okey dokes so men are not emasculated when they mouth off?  Is that how it works?  I kinda imagine if a man needs to resort to mouthing off to women he’s already deeply entrenched in the emasculation tank.  And speaking up that will result in charges of harassment?  What is he speaking up about the size of her tatas?   

I won’t go through all of this but lets just look at number 1 again…women want to wait…..and men are finding easy sex   which takes away a big reason for marriage.  Whoo boy.  I have to sit down a minute.  I’m parched and a little weak, I sure wish a big old strong man could see me now and help me back on my feet…and maybe even marry me up and offer up some good hard sex.  

Phylis Shlafly is perhaps like Jane Goodall in that she wants to convince us of the benefit of shacking up with gorillas, or supporting the limitations and restrictive beliefs of some of those gorillas.  (Please note, I intend no ill will towards Jane Goodall and her important and loving work with her gorillas.  And Ms Shlafly is entitled to her beliefs.) Ms. Schafly believes strongly in gender roles.  So does E.L. James, the author of 50 Shades Of Grey, for that matter.  No easy sex there, at least not for the women.  There is a sense that 50 Shades of Grey was such a sensation because we are all missing those hot, erotic, and sexy pleasures afforded to us through the traditional gender roles that we have moved so far away from.  Ummm, I don’t know…I can’t really imagine that things worked out so well for Ward and June Cleaver because she was waiting for the duct tape and chains to come out. 

Believing in gender roles, is not quite like believing in Santa, or God.  Or maybe it is exactly that way.  But to me, it is by now more like believing the world is flat and maybe extremely narrow.  Gender roles, unlike gender differences are based on societal values that in many cases no longer fit or make sense.  Sure, perhaps a larger percentage of the male gender may like to barbecue and play with fire to prepare the meat that they weren’t able to hunt down themselves. And a larger percentage of the female gender may be found with a child or three climbing atop them, but how this amounts to not providing measures to ensure equal pay or equal rights is lost on me.  Believing in gender roles, or preferring traditional gender roles in ones family has no place in limiting equal rights and protections from our government.  Especially a government that was formed on the platform of equal rights.  It took a hundred and forty three years for women to be granted some equalities, if we continue to collectively ignore the gorillas in our living rooms, board rooms and Supreme Court, we may reverse those fragile, tenuous, equalities that were hard fought and won.

If we give women the same rights that men already have, to be entitled to their own bodies, their sexuality and their ability to make their own decisions how can we not improve the quality of life for all?  There are gender differences, no doubt, but banning laws to guarantee salaries are not based on these differences will not turn back time.  Not supporting the Equal Rights Amendment or the Paycheck Fairness Act will not “fix” the ills of our nation or lure women back to their kitchens, barefoot and pregnant.  Gender roles in the kitchens, living rooms, bedrooms, and dens of subtropic forests and beyond, where gorillas may graze can continue in any way the involved gorillas see fit.

I don’t imagine all men to be gorillas.  I know all women that wish to, and have the support to stay home and raise their children are not gorillas.  I am certain, however, all women must be granted the same human rights provided to men.  Simply because the distinction of gender is not relevant to the protection of rights. Human Rights were not intended to be separated and watered down and doled out or withheld based on gender.  Believing in gender roles as the basis for the argument to fight against equality for women is similar to the argument that was once voiced for (or really, against) African Americans. It was continued to be believed by many that slavery was better for African Americans, it provided a roof over the heads of slaves, a steady job and food.  It took close to a hundred years following the end of slavery before the Civil Rights Act was passed.  We've come a long way baby.  We are not there yet.  

The Women's Rights Amendment was ratified in 1920, perhaps we can pass the Equal Rights Amendment before 2020.  To believe that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities does not seem a radical idea, not granting equalities is archaic and gravely detrimental.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Read This: Random Thoughts While Hiking

I decided to bring things up a notch and try a night of wilderness camping along with my high peak hiking.  Overnight camping.  I have done this in the Adirondacks only two other times.  Once with my son because don't boys need those big manly bonding times?  OK so I’m not so manly and it wasn’t all manly like, but well, how else was he going to have the opportunity?  He got to help out a little spitfire of a girly/woman and what could be more manly than that?  I went one other time alone in the Adirondacks and survived it with a sore back and a rash of mosquito bites.  Otherwise it was somewhat inconsequential. My last overnight camping expedition was last summer in Oklahoma, more of a stop over to catch some sleep as I was returning to the east coast from a wild and crazy, restorative cross country adventure.  There was no hiking involved, I was parked about 250 feet from the rust colored shoreline of Foss State Park.  I didn’t bother setting up a tent, the weather didn’t warrant it, and I was hoping to just sleep off a few hours of steady driving, not stay the night.  That stop cost me a trip to the Emergency Room in Mytrle Beach two days later, with a growing welt that was nearing the size of Delaware, resulting from a warning shot delivered by a rather generous and gentle-hearted Brown Recluse Spider.   

I might consider putting together a journal of adventures with a focus on hiking;  Hiking Your Way Through A Mountainous Mind.  Hike And Purge.  Hike To Purge.  Nature’s Bounty For The Faint Of Heart.  Hike Your Psyche Clear.  Mindless Mountain Meanderings.  Maybe not.

The thing about hiking is, it’s so serene.  Solitude all around.  Meditative Silence.  Deafening screaming silence so that all you have to do is watch your footing with extreme caution for a ½ hour or so between an hour or two here and there left to think all the weird, strange, and random things one might be thinking at any given time.  Sometimes the formula is reversed, and in between the hour long treacherous, high concentration and focused attention needed for jockeying upwards, or downward, you are briefly walking through beautiful green verdant paths (you just have to say green verdant paths like that whenever you can).  Here in the Adirondacks, these are the very paths traversed by James Fennimore Cooper, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry David Thoreau.  And my God, did they capture the meditative solitude of these places, or what?   

We can never have enough of nature…….
the wilderness with it’s living and decaying trees…. 
We need to witness our own limits transgressed, and some life pasturing freely where we never wander.   
       - Henry David Thoreau. 

I’ll put these great writings in historical perspective for you.  We were at that time a young country.  All that green, expansive “free”, not yet forever wild landscape was just there for the exploring.  Incredible.   Well if you were a man, with time on your hands and either a trust fund or a penchant for poverty. In the 1800’s, the cities that bore, or housed, or educated, even temporarily, such great writers, and presented opportunities for them to form and share their cultured and revered viewpoints, were toxic, filthy landscapes resulting from an industrial revolution, frenetic commerce and the contamination of overcrowded immigrant ghettos.  Finding nature and spending time in it was quite daring, and quite unheard of.  It was also an adventurous leisure activity afforded to very few.  And so they wrote about it as though they were touching the hand of God.  And so it is when you hike in the serene and green forests of this world.

Thoreau might consider me a foolish woman, if he were to read what follows, but he wouldn’t be the only one that considers me so.  There are times when the mountains provide opportunity for me to consider thoughts deep and troubling, or to simply appreciate the surrounding grandeur, and there are times when nature is simply a backdrop to consider random, small thoughts and follow them on their short, trailless paths to places that unfold before me. 

In deciding to go wilderness camping as part of my most recent hike, I must pack for it.   I attempt not to overpack.  But of course I do. 

Contents of pack:
·      Sleeping bag, lightweight (and not very warm)
·      Fresh undies
·      Extra socks
·      Flashlight(s) 1 headlight, 1 clamp-on, and 1 mini high beam (yes 3, because last time I didn’t pack 1)
·      Assorted and random first aid supplies; band-aids, bacitracin ointment, 2 ace bandages, 3 soft ankle braces, alcohol wipes, tweezers
·      (2) Long sleeve shirts,  (1) tank top, string bikini (yes, that should scare you, but it has life saving qualities, string, and it packs much lighter than the tankini with maximum coverage.  I’m alone in the woods for heavens sake?  Who’s going to see me? and in a pinch it can serve as a sling shot!)

·      Portable single burner stove with gas assembly
·      Tin cup (or whatever other California safety standard approved material is now used)
·      fork
·      Swiss army knife (that I can’t open because my fingernails start out broken, or break while trying to pull out the assorted knives, scissors, back-scratcher,  crochet needles, corkscrew, zipper-pull or whittling tool)
·      Kindle Fire (yes, I know)
·      2 Maps
·      Compass (that I don’t really know how to use to be able to walk from one peak to another but I can tell you which way is southeast or northwest)
·      Altimeter (that I forgot to set at the start of the trailhead, so it is now useless, except for the barometer, which I don’t remember how to read the numbers that warn of rain)

·      Extra sneakers (an indulgence I allow this time)
·      Camel-pack filled with water
·      Extra water
·      Gatorade
·      Food (suffice to say it’s a diverse assortment)
·      Wipes
·      Camera
·      Water proof case
·      Cell phone
·      Extra batteries
·      6 Pages from a hiking book  (which leads to my first random thoughts)

For reasons I can’t quite pin down, my hikes of late are not greatly planned out.  Which is sort of OK, I think.  I use to plan ad nauseum, and end up just as unprepared, or over-prepared for the wrong set of events.   One theme that has not changed, however, resonates in Thoreau’s words; We need to witness our own limits transgressed.  Hiking continues to be a place that I challenge my self-imposed limits and push myself further.  And as a result, I often figure out something that is troubling my soul, or learn how to let go of the weight of some such other trouble.  It is a place to visit and let go of life’s trivialities.  It is a place I get to pull up fond memories and smile gently recalling where and with whom I have journeyed.  It is a place that I am able to push myself physically without measuring myself up against anyone else.  The conflict of my story is ever present: woman against self, woman against nature, woman against others…..or more so,  woman with self, in nature, supported by others. 

I notice after parking, I have developed, or by now really honed this touching quirk I have.  Not touching, as in tender, or moving, but touching as in feeling, moving, rifling through, and fidgeting with materials I may carry.  I do this with my purse before I leave my car, while in a restaurant, or at the grocery store, usually to find my debit card with the growing fear of not being able to pay for whatever provisions are needed. I always find it. I always pay my way but I seem to need or enjoy building up this tense, sweat-filled angst that I can create instantly by frantically searching. I find myself doing it with my pack before heading to the trailhead to sign in.  It functions as a way to stall, perhaps, in the hopes that I come to my senses and head home, or to a sauna for a massage, or to a lovely restaurant serving local seasonal foods and home brewed beers.  It also functions as a way to worry out or in, all my fears, in the event this is the time I misstep and fall to my death, or trip on a twisted root and fall onto a jagged rock and bleed to death, alone.  But happy, I always imagine.  “She died in the woods on a hike.  She was happiest there.” I picture someone saying, and others nodding knowingly, comforted by this thought.  But today I think, well, I will be happy to have been hiking, but I don’t think I will feel happy enduring such unimagined pain knowing if I hadn’t wasted all that time fidgeting around, I would have been better equipped and much more alert to avoid the dangers that lead to my imagined death.  This time, as I’m touching everything around my car, and making sure I have everything I need, I decide to rip 6 pages out of the hiking book and leave the 8 pound book behind.  Progress, I tell myself, and a slightly lighter pack.  It might even save my life.  I sign in and begin. 

As much as I question of late, why I continue to put my aging knees and ankles through this, each hike offers different views, and different experiences, and a great sense of achievement.  The hike I have planned loosely for today includes four more high peaks; Seymour, Seward, Donaldson and Emmons and starts in Franklin County. It is my first High Peak hike outside of Essex County.  I have not spent much time in and around Saranac Lake and I enjoy the ride through.  The economy seems to be booming.  New shopping plazas, road construction, and crowded roads surprise me.  The views of the mountains from my car window are beautiful and they reassure me.

Since I decided to spend the night, I treat myself to a later start. As I am touching everything earlier, I decide to forego the tent and just take the hammock.  It will be my first time using a hammock on a wilderness trek and my back is happy in knowing I won’t be sleeping on a rocky, unmoving patch of ground.  My pack is heavy but not unbearably so. Off I go, my back now feeling a bit stronger, a little cocky even, and straighter in spite of the weight of the pack.

The trail for the first 5 or 6 miles is fairly moderate.  Leafy, soft paths, some mud, a few rocks jutting through.  I pass a pond, and a lean-to site before reaching the cairn that marks the way up.  These mountain peaks are reached by what is known as “trailless peaks”, the term reminds me of another expression, but I can’t quite remember it just now.  As I start hiking, with very little challenge, I start to think about the sacrilege that transpired earlier at my car.  I ripped pages from a book.  This is not an act I do often.  Ever?  (I have ripped a recipe from a magazine in a waiting room once, maybe even twice.) Stranger still, I am one of those crackpots that buy books from yard sales, book fairs, and library book sales, with the intent that I will use the pages for some art project or another and then can’t bring myself to destroy the contents.  Books I purchase to read, are done so because I have a very tenuous relationship with libraries.  Thus begins the limits revealed in today’s contemplative reflection and my journey toward transgressive healing.

Why do I have such a devout and righteous relationship with books I wonder.  I remember the beginnings of my deep veneration toward books.  There was a time, not very long ago when most people did not buy so many books.  They frequented the library.  Of course many still do, but many more frequent Amazon, or Barnes and Noble, or the few and far between local bookstores to purchase books which eventually get donated, and/or resold in a variety of venues to those of us that don’t go to libraries or have big dreams of repurposing pages from books. 

Growing up with modest means, did not allow for the frivolities of book purchasing.  And if I had to decide on buying a book as a young one, or some sweet gooey confection from Walter’s Bakery, or Rainbow Bakery, or any other shop or supermarket with gooey confections, that’s where I could be found supporting the local economy.  Had I known my metabolism was secretly building up a tolerance before aggressively unleashing it’s disturbing menopausal midriff redistribution plans, perfect for supporting a book or two, I might have bought books instead.  Anyway, I went to the library for books, not the bookstore.  You may not rip pages from library books.  You may not fold down the edges, drool chocolate on the pages of, or otherwise damage library books.  Or you are fined and must pay.  It is one of your first lessons in responsibility, if you go to the library as a child and get a library card.  In your name.  What a wonderful thing to have! (A name, as well as a library card.)

I was an early reader but I had a relationship with books that ran hot and cold.  I loved children’s books consistently however, and into my middle school years for the comfort, the illustrations and occasionally, the stories.  It was the illustrations that I pored over across many summer nights. I examined or delighted in every detail of picture book illustrations.  I might have also used them to serve as an attempt to slow down the passage of time, or come to terms with growing up, and older.  I recall walking to the library in my once hometown of Copiague, Long Island and moving between the children’s room, the YA section and the music collection, leaving with Stephen Bishop’s Greatest Hits,  A Friend is Someone Who Likes You by Joan Walsh Anglund and Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger.   Next time, perhaps, Neil Diamond or Boz Scaggs, Babar and Father Christmas, or maybe any and all things Sendak, how I loved Maurice Sendak!, and My Darling, My Hamburger by Paul Zindel.   I tried Walden at this time too, but I was not ready.   The passage of time would be necessary to attempt such a literary masterpiece.   I had started to accumulate poetry books from sales or the discard piles at school or library sale tables.  Edna, Emily, Robert.   Classics.  I would pretend the children’s books were for someone I was babysitting for…if asked… ever.    I was not.  And I hoped my sister, my roommate, would not notice or remark on my still being “such a baby”…she did not….ever.  But in life, as in hiking, it is best to be prepared. 

I go on walking and thinking, and finding my way around, or over, or knee deep in the mud.  Occasionally, I can let out a solitary, “Fuck!” in the middle of the woods, where I see no one for hours or sometimes a day.  And I imagine, between contemplative, admirable and reflective thoughts, Emerson and Thoreau might have come unexpectantly across a briar patch, an angry yellowjacket or a well disguised sinkhole and needed to release some such expletive that in no way minimized or broke their love of nature.   What with all that reflective thought making and dreamy observations being had… It is best in hiking, as well in life, not to keep unpleasantries inside to fester and cloud your vision or spoil your afternoon.  It was a rookie move.   Footprints on the top of the mud could have been made in much cooler and drier days, and preserved perfectly for weeks or months.  It is best to step lightly to ensure the ground beneath is firm enough to hold you, to avoid entering a mud pit that might be knee, or two or three feet deep, the same for mossy patches at the edges of shady ridges.  Rot has a way of leaving behind only the top most layer that might appear quite solid but is actually waiting for a snails sneeze to reveal erosion before a spider can say “Gesundheit!”  Isn’t that the way it works in life at times?  All that outward seeming perfection might be delicately and feebly covering all types of instability and uncertainty.  Ah, thoughts for another time, or to simply let go of.

My sporty little trail shoes manage quite nicely, surprisingly, through the mud.  All that breathable, brightly colored mesh!  A quick and purposeful splashing around the next brook washes off the mud and muck and my socks and shoes are sure to be dry within an hour.  I continue, revisiting my act of destruction with my hiking book this morning.  Or really my great trepidation, and guilt surrounding it. 

I currently live next door to a library.  A gem of a place.  Two of the all time best librarian’s are employed here.  They are the ambassadors of welcome for those of us fortunate enough to land in this little gem of a hamlet on the Hudson.  And I use the term “land” with great serendipitous spirit.  Many a wonderful person has landed here, perplexed and shell shocked only to find this is the very place they always belonged. When the stork drops you off at birth, Winkin, Blinkin and some dude named Nod carries you in some transitory cloud of puffy white comfort and offers you all swaddled in comfort.  When that same stork picks you up at some other turning point in your life and drops you off somewhere for your second, or third, next act, it’s up to you to create some level of comfort, to see the magic and welcome the smiles and enjoy the well-placed snark and spirited aplomb of these very library muses or some such folk put in your path.   And so I did.  One such library sprite, is well aware of my deeply felt unsavory library past.  I think she loves me anyway, or kindly tolerates me at least.

It started like this:  

The Copiague Memorial Library lent me many a book, for a summer or two.  And one or two or maybe in total 4 or 5 of these books failed to accompany me on my way back.  They were not lost, as much as treasured.  And then suddenly they were unforgivably “late”.   At this point in my story, the path comes to a fork and you can get to the summit either way but the view is different and the demands of the trails vary.  I will offer both.

I start to consider, after recalling my sense of the “unforgiveable” lateness of library membership responsibility and my path changes.  Now my thoughts are traveling through the sinful acts of children.  I think how odd to have felt the weight of this or any “sin” at such an early age.  And I know, this might seem a little dramatic, but I was a child at the time these thoughts were formed and so a child-like weight was attached to them.  Here’s the thing, ready?  I know this is not considered one of the 7 deadly sins.  And I don’t imagine a photo of me at nine or ten imprinted, or stamped, with the words Library Sinner exists in the archives in the damp and dusty backrooms or inner sanctum of the Copiague Memorial Library or Our Lady of Annunciation Church for that matter, which has no direct affiliation with the library, but that they are both places to worship one book or many in the seaside town of Copiague.  But then I start wondering about sins and children and the Sacrament of Penance, or confession, because well, I have the time, and the path is pretty easy still. 

Sinning and childhood typically consists of very few options.  Most little ones are not doing much killing at seven or eight when we first go to confession before receiving our first communion.  We aren’t too interested in interacting physically with anyone else unless it involves a hug from our parents or hitting someone and yelling, “You’re It” before running fast.  So the long, detailed list of anything related to sins of the skin, or anything sexually associated is fairly irrelevant at seven or eight when we begin to go to confession.  The Sabbath day observation is still part of our weekly routine and we aren’t yet aware that we may one day become separate, independent thinkers that can choose to test the validity of whether we will have a time share in purgatory that we sell AND profit from, or if the market might crash and we are stuck with that condo in the second coming of Detroit for the long haul.  (Sorry, did I explain this is a 28 mile trek and I’m only now at 1. 4 miles in?  Go get a handful of goop and relax…what else is there to do in the middle of all this green verdant vibrancy?)  So we go to church, do we love every moment of it?  Is it something we sin about? I think I did love every minute.  But not so much for pious and saintly reasons.  I liked counting the hats, and the bald men.  Sometimes I liked poking or nudging either one of my brothers or gently but annoyingly pushing my bony knee into my sister, knowing they couldn’t yell out or tell on me so I would be feeling pretty darn getting away with murderish….Oh I guess that probably was a sin.  But it was a tacit understanding, and we all bothered each other just enough to not illicit great bolts of lightening and thunder from an angry God, parent, or parishioner.  On second thought, I don’t  think that was much of a sin after all.  It was a focused use of our time, and we couldn’t see the priest from over the heads of those in front of us, or make much sense of the words we could understand.  Blessed are the children for being inventive and productive users of time.

I confessed of lying about eating the last cookie, maybe half a cake, once, or being mean to my two brothers and my sister, and to my mother.  My father, had that penetrating look, and he also came bearing Hershey bars on occasion, but mostly he was at work and not within proximity to bother.  I went on about my week cleansed with a few Hail Mary’s and the attention span of a gnat fueled with Coca-Cola, gooey sweet confections and all things sugar.  My sins did not much change or otherwise deepen in darkness or intent.  And so I journeyed until I reached the beginning stages of autonomy and responsibility.  The Library.  Changed.  All That.

Suddenly, I was a coveting, gluttonous, sloth over night. Three deadly sins in one fell swoop.  I looked at those picture books and couldn’t get enough.  Gluttony.  I would lie in my bed, many a summer night, falling asleep with the rhyming cadence of Joan Walsh Anglund or just before reaching the lyrical punch of Maurice Sendak.  Unmoving, sleeping, sloth.  And I could not part with these books at times.  Coveting my libraries limited resources.  By now I was anywhere between 10 and 13.  And I am quite certain these books and this library kept me from having to deny my not yet sexual blooming.   My late blooming self and that library saved me from potential for all manner of sins that would otherwise be manifesting in my suddenly developing hips.  It turns out reading Catcher in the Rye, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, My Darling My Hamburger, or Zooey and Franny does not, in itself, lead to sin of a sexual nature.

So now, let’s try the other path of this thought process.   

I start to wonder what if sins and sinning were not introduced as something to refrain from at such an early age?  If the Catholic Church spent more time teaching about sexual education from an educational perspective I think it could inform and direct behavior more so than the belief that worrying that the teaching of sex will open the flood gates of sexual sin making.  At this very early age I was taught about sinning and expected to confess.  I was taught to believe I was a sinner and I possessed some very fertile grounds for sinning.  If children believed instead, that their burgeoning autonomy could be the fertile grounds for world peace, or humanistic service, and understood that their bodies were sacred and needed to be respected and cared for I just kinda think it might create a world less bent on assuring pain and suffering.  I don’t know, it just seems like a better approach, that’s all. 

The paths join together here, and I recall trying to determine how to remedy the sins associated with botching up my library card responsibility and how I was to avoid facing the wrath of some vengeful God or pursed-lipped librarian.  So I do what most of us do when faced with turmoil.  Nothing.  I did nothing.  I kept the books safe at home.  I probably stop enjoying them because they are “wrong” to have.  Weeks turn into months, maybe reaching just beyond the year mark.  One day I am riding my bike and a sign at the library catches my attention.  Library Amnesty Day.  I circle the block.  Go back, ride passed slowly.  What could this mean for me?  I am convinced by now, I will have to be an indentured servant at the library to pay my growing fees.  This doesn’t actually bother me I am heartily sorry to say.  It will permit me access to inner sanctums.  The adult section.  The children’s room without shame or my prepared story of feigned altruism to help the young children I may babysit.  But Amnesty? 

This was big.  Monumental.  It was after all 1972 or 1973.  Amnesty.  That was something you heard about on the news.  To grant pardons.   Amnesty was being greatly debated regarding pardoning draft dodgers, conscientious objectors to a war that was by then unsupported and hard to justify.  Perhaps one of the librarians or a board member decided to apply the term to those library members that were book return dodgers in an effort to safely welcome home those books that did not otherwise know how to make their way back.  I didn’t really object to returning the books conscientiously, I just didn’t know how to face my irresponsible behavior.   After being entirely certain, even asking in that third person way, “So if someone had books that were late….. they could return them without fees?” I asked.  I went on to ask, “Does it matter how late?”  Yes and No was answered, in that order and confirmed it for me.  That same afternoon I proudly returned those books as though I was clearing the conscience of all book lovers that stay too long at the book borrowing party.   

I was redeemed, but not reformed.  I spent many more days in other communities awaiting amnesty days that never came.  I have paid a couple of fees that were more expensive than the value of the price of a first edition signed copy.  And then I began avoiding libraries for the most part the way a recovering alcoholic avoids bars and liquor stores.  When I buy a book I don’t fold down the pages or mistreat it, but I don’t worry about it either.  Invariably a favorite book might have signs of use that make me feel the weight of all sins, occasional chocolate drool, maybe a coffee ring on the cover…but pages are not ever torn out. 

So there I was heading out and attempting to pack lightly and there was that Adirondack Journal in my trunk that is well worn.  It has been on several hikes, regretfully, because now the edges of the pages are stained from a campsite coffee spill in an attempt to cook an ambitious meal of Caribbean Jerk Chicken on a single burner stove balanced on a small stone near a freshly brewed cup of coffee.  That was a trip that was greatly and successfully planned out, and so I had no reason to bring that book all that way, through the trails of the Great Range, except I imagined after walking 16 miles with a pack, setting up camp, finding water to filter through my filter gizmo, and cooking, I would need something to read to help me fall asleep, ha-ha-hummmmmm..zzzzzzz.  The next day an unexpected rain storm caused flash flooding  and we found ourselves walking chin deep through the brook that was barely ankle deep the morning before.  The book was soaked through and dried out over several days.  The pages are indeed warped, and coffee stained. 

There it sat in my car, still warped and coffee stained 4 years and 18 peaks later and it was difficult to rip out the pages I needed, only six of them, to make my pack less cumbersome.  But rip them out I did.  I brought my kindle, thinking it was light weight and could meet a few needs.  I could write down my thoughts and even read one of my books that evening in my hammock.  If I had planned better, I could have downloaded a GPS app, and the entire book that now sat in my trunk six pages fewer.  It felt a sin to rip those pages out just the same.  This hike will redeem me, but I’m not sure if I will be reformed. 

I signed up for a card at the Essex Library last November. I thought I could start over.  Library Grace.  I took out a few books.  Then I was injured and temporarily immobilized and my trips North stopped.  A call from the librarian reminding me of the terms of borrowing, highlighted this new wisdom: in life, and in libraries, you can’t always be prepared.  The librarian then asked, sweetly without judgment or indignation, “Would you like to renew?”.  Wow, that’s even better than Amnesty!  It has been offered as well by my neighbors, the best librarians in the world.

Hiking is like that.  Renewal.  An offering of varied viewpoints throughout.  No late fees or fines for staying an extra day or two.  And like that rare favorite book, you can sometimes come across something that you have seen before and suddenly see it new.  I will repurchase a copy of the hiking journal, Exploring the 46 Adirondack High Peaks by James R. Burnside and grant myself amnesty for ripping out the pages.  I will hike more and read when I have the time.  I will visit the library, and enjoy the possibility of grace, redemption and renewal.   So please, support your local library and enjoy the adventures of a good book, and get outside and create some adventures of your own in nature.

The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn.
  - Ralph Waldo Emerson 

(You don't suppose he would think I was a nut, do you?)

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Songs of Dedication

I’m listening to De-Li’-ful.  Well let’s just call her that for the sake of this story... 
And De-Li’-ful reminds me, on the off chance that I went into a sappy love song induced coma, by announcing to me and all of her listeners right before a commercial break, “You’re listening to De-Li’-ful.  And let me just tell you, if you have ever heard De-Li’-ful, you already know you’re listening to De-Li’-ful.   C’mon does a heroin addict know they just shot up heroin?  De-Li’-ful gets into your bloodstream that way.  You listen, for the numbing effect.  But you have to seek it out.  You start listening to her stories, her callers stories, and suddenly you aren’t sure if your eyes are welling up because you can relate to the beautiful man that is so embarrassed because he, wait… he….can’t say…he has a problem with in…. in….well,  he wets his pants …but before De-Li’-ful and the rest of us can allow him to finish his sentence, De-Li’-ful says in that voice, with that delivery the way only De-Li’-ful, (or your mother-in-law if she had a nice voice) can…”So are you saying you have to wear Depends?”    Yes, De-Li’-ful can say that in a nice voice, that seems to be covered up in Crisco-frosting care and kindness… He gets choked up and says, “Yes” fighting back tears and adds he wants to dedicate a song to the hostess,..ummm, he means, waitress, in the hotel, ummm….. diner he frequents because she makes him feel like the sexiest man alive in his Depends.   De-Li’-ful plays Let the River Run, reminds us we”re listening to her and puts on a commercial.

Listening to De-Li’-ful is a big part of vacation.  An indulgence.  Cocktail hour every afternoon.  Double scooped ice cream cones.  But it’s also like playing Yahtzee, or miniature golf, or going to the same ice cream shop and the same place for burgers, barbecue, or crab legs every time you go on that vacation…depending on where you go and if you’ve been to the same place at least a few times.   Even on vacation, most of us tend to seek out familiarity and comfort.  A little bit of home but with extra calories and more value added fun.

When my kids were young we would have the funniest conversations about De-Li’-ful and her lovesick, love-jilted, or loveless callers.  It was at the time, long ago and faraway, before multiple CD playing stereos, iPods, and satellite radio were available in cars.  The only Faces you saw were each other’s not on a tiny little screen in the palm of your hand.  De-Li’-ful was on the one station we could receive through the dark and desolate mountains of the North Country, throughout our 5 or 6 hour drive from the suburbs of Rochester to the Adirondacks and then later from the Hudson Valley to the Adirondacks.

De-Li’-ful plays about 6-10 songs.  She recycles them for her callers based on their stories.  A husband calling about his saintly wife that raised 10 of his 15 children while he was in jail? Wind Beneath My Wings.  Wife calling about mystical husband that replaces the toilet paper roll? You Are My Special Angel.   Boyfriend that dumped his girlfriend but wants her back? My Heart Will Go On.  The southern man calling about the one that got away but he hopes that she might be listening? Reunited. (There are a lot of southern callers, and they all like Georgia peaches so Peaches and Herb makes some sense…..)  The jilted girlfriend who knows her boyfriend cheated throughout their romance? Wind Beneath My Wings.  She also favors, Journey and Air Supply.  French Canadians.  Carly Simon.   Her choices of music, might otherwise promote suicide for the lovelorn, but somehow she has made this into a one world love fest of genuine, unapologetic life-giving schmaltz.  She is more than a DJ, she is a spinner of hope, the B-side of her 45’s might be full of despair, but you paid your 99c for the 45 and you don’t have to care much for what’s on the B-side, at least not with De-Li’-ful.  Last night that DJ saved some serious lives.

A few times between rounds of 20 questions, license plate bingo and my oldest son’s favorite game of Guess What Shape I’m Thinking Of?   (The winning answer?  Whatever Mommy guesses.  Everyone else? Sorry you lose.   There are perks that go with motherhood, and they are best not questioned or made to mean anyone else is unworthy or undervalued.  But they could mean that, why question it, leave it to the B-side and drive on) Anyway, between those games we would listen super attentively to the caller’s tales of love and perfection or love gone wrong and we would try to guess which song was played to commemorate the callers love interests. 

I imagine this must be as close to replicating a happy family all gathered around the radio as we ever came close to.  Thinking of having one source of entertainment before TV, internet, heroin, iPads, and vans with surround sound and popcorn makers and toaster ovens in the glove box makes me sort of  happy to be alive, now.  Did I say heroin? But those were fond memories.

Tonight, I am, as De-Li’-ful just reminded me, listening to her.  This time the caller does not call, instead he wrote a letter that she reads aloud.    Dear De-Li’-ful, I have a beautiful daughter, but her mother and I never married.  I want so badly to provide a normal family for her.  The problem is, I am ugly and poor.  And no one will even look at me.  I have no friends and I don’t have a job.   She goes on to share,…He hasn’t had a date in eight years and he often thinks of Janet Jackson’s song, What Have You Done For Me Lately?  And because of that song he believes he will never get a date because he can’t do much for anyone else lately, seeing as he’s so darn ugly and doesn’t have a job.   And there! I’m hooked.  But before I can guess the song, she throws a curve ball. 

She starts telling all her listeners, even me, that she could not even read what he wrote and instead changed it because he said how ugly he was too often.  She tells him, no one is too ugly when they have a good heart.  But maybe, she goes on to say, he might need a haircut, or he might need to lose weight, or clean his face…What?  Damn, you still can’t rewind the radio!  Does he tell her he has long hair in his letter, maybe a mullet?  OK she might have a point… Did he say I have a dirty face?  Wouldn’t he already know that a dirty face is not the best way to attract someone? It could get in the way…but I don’t think it would have to be a deal breaker, some sweet loving lonely woman could gently wipe the eight years of decay off his cute chubby cheeks….and then she played…Escapade, but I couldn’t get Nasty out of my head for a while.  And really?  The Best Things in Life are Free would have really nailed that one!  All great Janet Jackson tunes, and a better way to mix things up.  I’m a little thrown by this.

But wait the story of the tired single Mom is coming on…Shhhhh listen:  She’s got four kids.  And she’s been dating a man with three kids.  She wants to dedicate this song to him because he’s her whole world.  She wants De-Li’-ful to thank him for celebrating Mother’s Day with her and making it the most beautiful Mother’s Day she has ever had.  De-Li’-ful gets all gushy and asks a few questions.  After a very long drawn out “Awwwwwwww.  That’s so sweet he must really love being a Dad.  Are you thinking of bringing this family together into a big blended family?” The caller responds, “Oh we would love to but my boyfriend hasn’t seen his children in 4 years.”    De-Li’-ful is a little perplexed, but promises to pray for their union.  Then she does that thing again, totally out of character, “I hope he can find a way to fit his own children into his life.”  she oozes.  “I wonder how happy their mother is?”  She snarks out. “Oh but, she might actually be thrilled to have him out of her life, he sounds like a deadbeat….”  What? Is De-Li’-ful having a breakdown on nationally syndicated radio? Then she catches herself, I think.  “How long have you known this magic man?”    The caller replies, in a voice growing more tired, “Oh about six months, as soon as his restraining order was lifted….” It turns out the caller was his parole officer but now that his ex-wife agreed to drop the charges in order to get him to finally agree to a divorce settlement he is no longer on parole.  The magic of love and romance as portrayed on the De-Li’-ful show is so real you almost feel you lived through these stories.  Or your just plain pickled to be happily at home faraway from the madness that exists right there beyond your doorway.

Anyway I just love all this love and hope and romance.  I’m thinking about seeing if I can find that man with the bad hair.  I could request a song by Haircut 100.  Personally I think De-Li’-ful was a little hard on him.  After all he wanted to provide a normal life for his daughter.  And he probably can’t work because he’s so darn worried about his little daughter, who probably suffers from chronic conjunctivitis and acne.  I think Wind Beneath My Wings would have gone nicely for his story…

That’s all for now.  I have to go jump in the lake and get ready for a big hike in the morning and remember that De-Li’-ful is like heroin and I’m not sure that I want to get Addicted to Love…anytime soon…but wait she’s playing the Titantic Song by that French Canadian schmaltz developer again and I missed that story…

OOOhhhhh weeee!!!  The cutest man stopped me on the way to the lake and just wiped off that third scoop of mint chocolate chip off my cheeks.  I was wondering where that dropped, and I knew I sat on something!! 

Sweet De-Li’-ful, this might turn out to be the best summer yet!