Sunday, October 30, 2011

A Girl Is A Gun- Fashionista or Sandinista?

While visiting New Orleans this summer, I noticed a sign over a storefront on Magazine Street, that hipster's paradise and shopping mecca et. al.  I wasn’t sure exactly what the sign was advertising, but I found myself reading it as though it were a fill-in-the-blank puzzler of sorts.  The sign read, “A Girl Is A Gun”.

A Girl is a Gun…so you better get a license to use her?
A girl is a gun ….so watch your aim?
A girl is a gun …. don’t play with her if she’s loaded?

I looked up some NRA gun safety recommendations and also found additional tips on a blog that I have visited before and have great respect for,  The Art of Manliness

A girl is a gun …. wear eye and ear protection as appropriate.
A girl is a gun … ALWAYS keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot.  
A girl is a gun …. when holding a gun, rest your finger on the trigger guard or along the side of the gun. Until you are actually ready to fire, do not touch the trigger (this seems rife with innuendo and a little suggestive).

I thought the sign might be advertising a hip new musical venue, or a support group for divorced men.  Maybe the NRA headquarters for women?

It caught my eye because I have this great aversion to guns and violence and weapons of assorted-sized destruction. As such, I have somehow been raising a son that is quite attracted to guns and weapons and not exactly destruction, but maybe this particular aspect of manliness or at least power and maybe control.  Some of this attraction is related to his developing sense of self.  Some of it is just a “man” thing, and some may be just that very bit of nature in spite of the maternal nurturing, forewarnings and peaceful promoting ad nauseum.   The banning of guns  and video games certainly did not help.

So what else is a mother to do with a son that is curious about the world, intrigued with figuring things out and making things after he figures them out?  She supports and attempts to redirect.  She promotes science and education over violence, he continues to weave in questions and comments and explores the topic gently without seeming quite transparent. 

“What would you do if I wanted to join the military?” 
“I wouldn’t like it, why would I want my son to kill people or get killed?”
What would you do if I was an engineer and worked for a corporation that made weapons or protective gear to help save soldiers?” 
“Oh you mean, save soldiers from one country so they could kill someone’s sons from a different country?” Unfortunately,  I do like Iron Man movies and have enjoyed a couple with this son.  I sort of get the attraction.  I mostly just like Robert Downey Jr.

I don’t want to be supportive of violence or weapons.   I have a hard time with war.  I am not completely convinced that the wars we have been fighting for the last 5 decades have been fought in the name of democracy or freedom or in defense of innocent people.  I might have a very different viewpoint if the Iran-Contra scandal did not arm a few different nations only to later have  our own weapons pointed back at us. If we hadn’t helped put Gaddafi in power after supporting his removal, only to somehow determine he wasn’t really reformed after-all.  Osama Bin Laden and Sadam Hussein have both been on the 'friendlier' side of this nation at one time.  I really might have a different opinion, if not for these strange actualities.  I understand that our nation offers us great freedoms, and security, but I don’t entirely believe it is related to us sending troops to foreign nations that we have less than noble interests in.   All that aside, I  want to believe in idealistic and peaceful resolutions and I know this is more than a bit naïve and simplistic.  

I promoted his interest in creating things.  I brought him to the Maker Faire.  I learned more about science and air compression.  I did not initially understand that he was making a gun, exactly. This came in time.  I rationalized the benign effects of marshmallow launchers and spud guns.  I was impressed with his knowledge.  (I am thrilled he wasn’t interested in making the atom bomb.)  I supported his interest in attempting to start a science club and watched with pride as he lead a class for middle school students in the engineering of a self-designed prototype for air-compressed paint “guns” made from pvc pipes, tire tube valves, ball valves and pvc epoxy.    He used these “guns” to paint on a large canvas, Jackson Pollack-style in a local Science Foundation sponsored community event.

What surprised me more than anything, however was watching the girls that signed up for his class. The girls outnumbered the boys 2:1.  The girls that came to the community event were also very curious to observe.  Now I am a little ashamed to point out that I was surprised at the girls behavior.   As a card-carrying feminist of the most loving and sweet-natured variety, I had stereotyped the concept that girls should not be attracted to weapons or, violence.  And perhaps they are not.  But the girls, each one, every single one, aimed, turned the ball valve with such thrill and excitement, and launched paint clear across the field, armed and at the ready with a new taste of power.   A grin across their faces that left them wanting for more was obvious and a little frightening.  The boys for the most part handled the air/paint launcher with a little more seriousness and reserve.    Accept for the one Rambo-type individual that will surely be charged in the future with friendly-fire, the first one downed or the victim of a self-inflicted wound, his excitement was connected to something else all together-danger, not power.

I am truly hoping that my son will look to developing his skills as an engineer and move away from the gun fixation.  (The brochure that mysteriously appeared on my kitchen table advertising the ROTC Marine Corps tells me otherwise.- Can I sign a commitment with MIT for a ten year college contract, how about a mail order bride and a few other diversions?)   

“The Girl is a Gun” turned out to be a trendy new fashion boutique for hipster types, and also the name of a psychedelic French Western film from 1971.   Fashionista vs Sandinista?    As for the girls with the guns that I recently observed, hootchy mama…watch out!

What's that prayer about remembering ....Give me the strength to know what I have the power to control or change or completely ignore and a tall glass of red wine, please?

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Introducing: Agriculturina, Goddess of Simplicity and the Myth of Me

I recently had a conversation with someone that described himself as “just a plain old art guy”.  Plain - and – old - and – art  just don't quite meld for me.  I think he was being facetious.  I don’t know him well enough, or much at all, to weigh in on the validity of this statement.  I am convinced nonetheless; there must be much irony in this assertion. It seems this guy has had a modicum, if not quite a bit more, of success as an artist.  He creates beautiful artwork, the kind that stops you, draws you in, and compels you to get close enough so that you find yourself attempting to move inside of it and become a part of it.  That good, his art, truly.  He seems to have a fairly large fan base from what I can tell, but that might be related to something else altogether.   Plain and art just don’t usually go together, not if you are any good at the art, and he is.  But maybe that’s the myth of him and who am I to say differently?

What’s most relevant about his assertion is my reaction or connection to it.  I have long shared that I fancy myself  “a simple, farm-woman” but I couldn’t get anyone to accept it or even consider it, briefly.  It hasn't helped that I am not a farmer.  I am holding on to this belief in myself, just the same. Perhaps one day I may become part of some great anthology of American heroines, or heroes (gender neutral of course) as, THE most eminent, strong and simple farm-woman.   

This truth/myth started quite some time ago on a farm in western New York that I happened to co-own with a husband, long gone, as in, on to different pastures not deceased.  It might have started much earlier on a farm in Lauragh, Ireland and the passing down of traits and family obligations.  I fancy my grandmother, a simple, farm-woman.  Not so much simple as in dull or dim witted, far from it.  More in grounded, stoic, salt of the earth, no-fuss, simple, you know, the mythological variety.  How I ended up on a farm in Western New York is complicated, far from simple, but relates to submitting as a wife and woman and the start of the myth of me.  I went quietly, as though summoned or required.   I knew the idea of owning farmland in the middle of the western part of this state was not bourn from my desires.  The decision was made more from defeat than adventure.  I did not want to be the one that said “no,” again. I laid down my sword and shield. 

I did what any simple, farm-woman might, (not bad for a girl from Queens) I learned to live with it and made the best of it.  I learned that I loved the sound of birds in the morning.  I began to appreciate and value rocks each spring when the land was tilled, and suddenly fields seemed to be blooming with rocks: fossils, colorful, textured fruits of the inner earth.  It was here that I began to examine and collect rocks, stopped to take notice of them and add them to my gardens.  (Odd? sure, but it’s my story, not yours.)  I learned to love the landscape and the rows of feed corn that a “real” farmer grew on our land.    I learned that air could be fresh and clean, that a 5-mile bike ride “around the block” with my first-born strapped behind me would have him asleep before our house was out of vision.  I learned that by simply looking, blue herons could be seen, stoically standing in wait.  Days could be long and languid, if I so chose.  I typically did not...then.  I had a sweet baby girl and brought her home to this farm.  I learned that I love making pies and canning cherries, sometimes while whistling poorly, but enthusiastically.    I learned that being "me" was ok, and fitting me to this environment could be done, if temporarily.  I learned that my fearless daughter was in fact afraid of sledding down “daffodil hill” so named by my son for the plethora of daffodils that bloomed there wildly each spring.  I learned how to be a mother and continue still.  I learned that a day spent chopping and stacking wood could be therapeutic, on occasion, and there is no better warmth than from a wood stove.

One thing I never learned, however, was to appreciate that water comes from the ground.  I still want my water piped directly without fear of diminishing supplies due to the weather, power failures or unprimed pumps.  So call me high-maintenance, or Goddess Agriculturina.  Which agricultural goddess isn’t always at the mercy of water and engaged in a love-hate relationship with the elements?  I have been wrestling a myth, I may as well imagine myself a goddess.  I might just keep trying to wrestle.   I’ve wrestled all sorts of thoughts and beliefs and run of the mill frustrations and they haven't slowed me down so far. I’ll imagine this myth to have some Greek-like philosophical importance or maybe Celtic spiritual power would be better suited.  Maybe I can finally wrestle it to the “end”.  Not the bloody end or anything messy like that, just the fold-it-up-neatly-and-toss-it-aside end.  The myth I am wrestling with is the myth of me.  My sense of self and the super-hero powers I have regretfully given to others to further determine or attempt to destroy who I am is at great odds, and a super-hero, or the mythological me may need to set things right. 

It wasn’t always this way.  I was once, or practically, a rebel, a warrior, a risk-taker, and devil-may-care hellcat.   Not a myth, so much as, a clearly defined being.  Sometimes a force to be reckoned with, other times a calm and quiet presence, an observer, a thinker, and just as quickly a raucous instigator challenging others to be more, or less of who they were.  I was more frequently, just an all out good time.  But that was long ago, when I didn’t care so much about the opinions of others enough to alter who I was or where I was aiming to go. More specifically, I wasn’t concerned with the opinions of those that had no real impact or importance in my life, or those that were too steeped in destruction, self-directed or otherwise.    

It has been a struggle being “me” in this world that wants people to fit, to conform, to acquiesce and agree.  I have some strong, unconventional leanings amidst some regular, ordinary thoughts and desires.  I don’t always “fit”.  I mostly don’t want to, or need to, or simply just can't.  But I have tried, and doing so, I have lost a great deal of me.   I have started realizing I am not so very different, or difficult, or dastardly.  

In the face of adversity, I have a tendency toward directness, which can be threatening to others.  I don’t like to tiptoe around issues, but knowing how directness can be so off-putting I began stifling and egg-shelling my responses to the point of submission.  This worked so far as prolonging a life half-lived for far too long.   I wish I had been more direct, and much earlier, or simply packed up the farm cart and headed out sooner.   There has been a great deal of adversity.  The myth I was fighting was related to wanting to be supportive and patient.  I was each and more, but I was also angry that someone could destroy so much while denying it and blaming others.  I believed I couldn't risk being blamed, I was anyway. 

I was, a very long time ago, at times, a rebel.  Like Andraste, fearless warrior who saved Ireland from the Romans.  I went after things.  I set goals and achieved them.  Well maybe not quite like her, she had an unlikely helper.  A special interest in the hare as a pre-GPS device.   She figured out which direction to pursue and conquer after releasing her rabbit.  All right scratch that, not like Andraste.  I can’t help but think of Glenn Close and Fatal Attraction and we all know where her hare ended up.  (That’s frequently the problem with women warriors, about 2 minutes into it, they get all intense and wound up and it’s just hard to take them seriously any more.)  I suppose imagining myself as a warrior is in part myth.  It seems I tend to spend more time on warrior-ing myself, or my instincts.  I second-guess in spite of the clarity.  I continued to set goals and achieved them, but they seemed to be done a bit more cautiously and at times constrained, respectable.  I was fighting the myth of being challenging.

I am strong. I have been told this for as long as I can remember.  It has been said with bravado and pride, by my father.   It has been said with disbelief, and occasionally with awe, from friends or like-minded folk, and my mother.  Sometimes, with annoyance, by an old boyfriend, or husband or two…sometimes shared with lament, by a particular colleague, “you don’t always have to be so strong.”  I suppose I needed to figure out how to adjust and waiver and moderate my strength?  Maybe I did need to be so strong, but it made my colleague and others along the way, uncomfortable, because it forced them to decide which side of the strength-fence they were sitting on.  The colleague ultimately stayed on the edge, and lamented about my so-called strength.  This is a great source of trouble with the myth of me, my strength being that double-edged sword that I am not permitted to wield, or whatever one does with a sword of strength that would be acceptable to others.  Yet, when my strength is supported, I am often thanked for seeing something through in the face of adversity. I have been fighting the myth that being strong is bad or not feminine or acceptable for me.

This paradox, my strength, is responsible for creating a great deal of ambiguity in my ability to really honor who I was/am, not the myth of me, but me, straight on.  I have been caught up so long in “fighting” me and submitting to those around me.  I have lost sight or merely forgotten the truths of me.   I am strong at times, but my strength is grounded and sure, and it can be very, very kind and protective and loving.

The aforementioned farm is where I played with two beautiful children forging a family of my own. Farm children?  Not exactly, but they appreciate rocks and daffodils and cornhusks. This farm is where I started a new life, which ultimately brought a second husband and eventually in a less agrarian setting, a third child.   After sometime, this husband also became interested in other pastures, or just disinterested altogether, not for me to say.  The children have helped shape the truth of me.  The three, appreciate, in varying degrees a mother that is “a simple farm-woman” with complex ideals and urban blood pumping through her veins.  A mother that can sometimes be found whistling in a sundress, or overalls, or tight jeans and heels, making extraordinary pies.  A mother that can chop and stack wood, create magic and sing lullaby's off key and be so full of overflowing nurturance and strength.  A mother that believes in love, but also has one foot out the door, armed with a pitchfork, or a dream.  Ready, all ways to deal with the course that mother nature and/or the universe determines in spite of any perceived progress and planning, or maybe simply to prompt forward or onto a different path.

The myth about me that may be grounded in truth is that I will always come out standing, if a little worn.  I want for little and offer much.  I wish I were a tad more like Medb (Maeve) of Ulster.  She fought without a war but she won, again and again and she had quite a bit of fun along the way.  Apparently terms like “man-share” were used in connection with her.  And she needed seven men to satisfy her.  That’s all good and fun, but now I can’t help thinking about the seven dwarfs, and well, that just doesn’t really turn me on….or fit into a myth about me.  Maybe a fantasy someone else might be having about me, but who can really know what goes on in the minds of others, certainly not me, even mythical me. 

Two down five to go?  A possible man-share in the making? Maybe there is truly a pre-determined plan in operation here...... Whatever the reasons, I need to make the best of it.  It is actually a myth that I am so glib about the outcomes of my marriages, but sitting around pathetically wondering why they haven’t lasted won’t help the crops come in and I have some pies to make. 

(The plain old art guy is an artist in the Hudson Valley, he also goes by the name Chris Gonyea.)

Monday, October 17, 2011

Groupthink Doesn't Make for "Smart Marriage"

I had been deeply entrenched in divorce survival boot camp.  I am in hopes of closing up shop fairly soon.  I never signed up for this, but I think the plan states when I am finished depleting any hope of a settlement, I can be free.  Ah, what the hey, I am so over this pain and suffering nonsense, I am already quite free.  If you need a visual, I hadn't been wearing camouflage, but blending in, or at least hiding-out had been a goal.  At it's best or worst times the camp was not a boot camp so much as a bedroom encampment with blankets strewn with books, magazines and the trusted laptop for all of my divorce survival study guides and daily devotions that have pleaded with me to “let go” and “move on”.  Legal advice, parenting advice, post-marital, pre-dating advice.  How to dress younger, but not too young advice.   Sometimes my room functions as a temporary command central, to set up shop for court dates or ponder the meaning of  a few more wildly imagined allegations thrown my way, but otherwise it’s a peaceful retreat and maybe one day soon a playful haunt for the adventurous.  Dream big, I shall.

The one bit of “advice” I hadn’t expected to come upon in my search for serenity, was advice from a group called Smart Marriages.   They are, and I kid you not, “a coalition for marriages, families and couples”.  A task force.  That could have sounded like a good thing except that it’s really just not.  I say this because I am the flag-waving, number one, crazed, fanatic for families and couples and oh, just everyone that wants to be together in love.  I just love, love.  And I love when people are happily loving.  I honestly think marriage is a really great idea, and I think it sometimes works incredibly well, in spite of the challenges.  I just don’t think it would work better for some, if a flag-waving, crazed, fanatical, political group was mandating it.  Or enforcing it.  This is the same type of flag-waving, fanatical, political group that is opposed to sharing the great wealth of marriage with just anyone.  The cause they are standing by and the slogans they are shouting are “Make Divorce Harder”.  If this did not illicit pain and suffering or the void filling silent scream so depicted by Edvard Munch, I might actually laugh or at least snicker.  But instead, I will dissect and point out, so come along, secure your tent flaps and put on your flak jacket, forward marchers!

Let me just take a moment to stress that I think the diversity of groups in our nation is a bit astounding and maybe even awe-inspiring.  Groups for everyone imaginable.  But a group strung together with the intent to make divorce harder?   Let that sink in. Groupthink it to pieces, PLEASSSSSE!  If you didn’t have the same visceral reaction I did, put it on the back burner, let it simmer, or better yet, turn up the heat, wait till the contents turn that tarry black briquette and the scent of acrid toxicity streams into your nasal hairs and burns slightly. Yes, there we go, let’s make divorce harder.  I so want to be picked for that committee! 

Where to begin?  Maybe mediation-bound couples.  On a good day, mediation is a noble and worthy concept. Like special education that is inclusive and true democracy in a capitalistic society.  Great concepts, but the execution and buy in, not always so easy to implement or carefully apply.  When mediation works, it’s phenomenal.  Everyone wins.  Everyone comes out standing and gets to stay intact, for the most part. I can see how this might seem too easy.  If a group feels maybe threatened by divorce and sees people leaving a marriage cordially with integrity, I could see why they would want to stop this. I suppose it could seem like those charlatans are mocking the divine principles of marriage.   If the divorcing couple is this respectful of each other in divorce, you might conclude they must have been delightful in marriage.  Nope, sorry, don’t let them get a divorce so easily.  Make them sit in their corners with hungry lawyers and coked up in-laws cheering from the sidelines with venom and animosity for a little bit.   

Remember, this group believes divorce is too easy and if people leave marriages happily or even politely, something is deeply wrong with society, isn’t it?  Surely humans functioning with dignity and compassion need some help.  They need to learn a thing or two about struggles and resolve.  I say we send those mediation-bound couples on a mini tropical retreat.  First class tickets to that relation supportive tropical haven, what’s it called? Oh yeah Gitmo! Of course. Handcuff them together and execute the marriage mandate procedure.  Go a little easy; serve the water torture using imported Perrier.  The plank torture can take place on bamboo or recycled teak or maybe the new soft and giving cork products.   Gitmo does supply training for "humane" torture treatments, right?   If these couples still want a divorce, so be it, the group was at least able to try to make it harder for them.  

The group may have reached some of the kind and cordial mediation-bound couples and convinced them that staying married is a much better option than deciding to divorce prior to completely sucking the life-blood from each other but I am not really convinced. Maybe this explains those couples that we all look away from in restaurants.  They sit and stare off and occasionally attempt conversation or report daily events:  “ I tried to give myself CPR with the AED device today to gain a pulse, but then I remembered we were having dinner tonight and I wanted to make sure not to trigger any meaningful connection to the living” she says, while dropping her monotone voice into an inaudible murmur and sipping her third Manhattan.   “I think you ….might be…… flat lin……….ing, ”  he responds with drooping eyelids on his pale complexioned face, but he turns to look out the window before finishing.    You know them; the “shoot me now“ couples.  The litmus test.  “At least we aren’t that bad”, we imagine and catch ourselves and suddenly you start a lively conversation with your partner and attempt some risqué footwork under the tablecloth.   

Back to the goals of Smart Marriage, the dedication to the cause.  OK, so making divorce harder.  We got the tree-hugging mediators to stay in the marriage club, who’s next?  Let’s go after the divorcing couple with children.  Let’s make it really hard for them.  Ah, first stop Family Court.  Which I think in some back room meeting was determined to mean, "if you think for a minute that a family is in any way connected to court, you will suffer, your family will suffer, your family’s families will suffer for eternity if not longer".  I think the marriage coalition was borne here with a pact from Satan, but that’s just me.  I have actually witnessed flirting here, phone numbers exchanged, a regular for the bold and brazen or wickedly sadistic.  I just wasn’t feeling it here.  I was busy examining the room for the AED just in case I needed to help keep myself alert or hang on to the new life that hadn't yet revealed itself.   Ready? Clear!    Soooo, maybe it does need to get tougher, or maybe I should have taken a closer look at the newly available and financially decimated crowd and planned for my next best thing, my loss.

Everyone knows Family Court is where custody and child support decisions get made, and disturbingly enough this is also the place that had a hand in several recent shooting rampages and some of this area’s worst crimes.  What with all of the court appointed attorneys, mandated psychological exams,  accusations, and restraining orders, one might think someone is actually paying attention to these horrific crimes that seem stoked in Family Court's great halls of injustice.  Maybe the group isn't happy with the results and they are hoping to increase these responses, a kind of a threat, something to really think about.  "Yep, I wish I would have just stayed with that peach of a  man responsible for making my children orphans." is oft echoed in the after-life.

But really, it should be harder.  We all know the real stories of people’s intimate lives.  Chock full of crazy, but just not hard enough.  Typically, divorcing parents never contemplated divorce. They arrived at the decision with great ease and lightness, I am sure.  They haven't had conflict and tension and desperate sadness, and wavering hope for far too long to remember.  They wake up one Sunday morning and Madge reports over the New York Times while pouring coffee for Irv, “I was thinking Irv, we have been so complacent and content, even, what say we shake things up and try out a divorce?”  Irv, mulls it over, and replies, “There’s my girl!  Always knowing how to bring things up a notch and keep things interesting.”  He smiles those big bedroom eyes at her, and dials the lawyer.  Next he decides to deny that the kids are his.  He doesn’t have to pay a cent until proven otherwise.  Or maybe he accuses her of mental illness.  If she didn’t start out there, hah, she’s on the speed track now.  The kids after all, were also living the American Dream, being carted around lovingly by their doting parents.  Madge had worried for years that they had no direct contact to adversity or sadness.  This will surely shake things up.  Maybe she’ll take in a lover, someone her daughter's age, or get a few tattoos.  Then she can throw in a few twists and turns of her own.   Yeehaw!  Now we’re talking.  Something to live for.  A reason to jump out of bed.  Court dates lined up for the next 2, 3, 4 years.  What were they going to do with all of that money anyway?   Yeah, I guess I am nearly convinced that this group is on the right track.  Gee willickers divorce should be much harder!

Admittedly, the last category of married couples that should really suffer, were once a puzzle to me.  (Age is that great puzzle solver, wasted on the older.)  The couples that made it 20, 30, 40 years and now decide to divorce.  I once thought this so odd.  I figured “you made it this long, why stop now?”  I imagined they worked out most of the kinks, by this point, and they didn’t have the stress and fear and responsibility that comes with parenting.  Or they didn’t care about the kinks and had developed some level of companionship, I imagined, and looked forward to, something.....  Why leave now?  But, I get it.  I see.  For some, it might be the last great hope at joy or peace or healing.  It might be that all of the struggles and suffering that occurred just did not justify another second of hope, or more likely hurt.  It might be due to the reality of aging that comes quick and hard for some.  It just isn’t any of my business or concern how other couples get to this decision. 

I think I want to form a group.  It will be more about minding your own business. Taking a hard look at your own life and hopefully dedicating some thought to improving and growing.  Maybe my group will have some wild good times, crazy-assed dancing would be nice,  and some quiet reflective times.  Maybe we will help each other through when one of our members gets a juicy taste of that chock full of craziness and uses the suffering of others to make them feel righteous or turn it into a political cause.  Or for that matter, when they go after  the happiness of someone else.    I really don’t think I am that special, but I have to say, life is already hard.  Why would any group function to make it harder?   

OK don't crowd around the sign-up sheet, and whoever is doing "the bump"  just stop, I didn't mean that crazy-assed.

And for the record- I think divorce craziness is an equal opportunity employer of terror, I just happen to be experiencing it as one particular  woman.  I also think marriage is just fine for those that are working at and enjoying one, but when it's over, let it be with grace and integrity or set up camp for an unpleasant ordeal, and remember this too shall pass.