The most inspiring woman of 2011 (for me, anyway)

I have a low-level obsession with the show “I Survived…” Have you seen this particular Biography Channel horror? It goes like this: Three people sit thisclose to the camera, framed by a black background, and tell you about surviving a near-fatal situation. One person (usually a woman) recalls a kidnapping/rape/home invasion; the second talks about a hurricane/fire/lost-at-sea disaster; a third describes how he amputated his own arm in order to free himself from a mechanical corn picker. There are also some school shooting/bank robbery survivors.

If aliens were to view “I Survived…” in preparation for visiting our planet, their notes would read something like this:

  • The people of Earth come in two genders. Gender 1 is unpredictable and violent; Gender 2 is vulnerable and gullible.
  • Gender 2 ought to stay in and lock its doors at night, lest it invite unpredictable violence.
  • Never accept offers of automotive transportation from Gender 1.
  • Universities are hotbeds of insanity.
  • Do not trust security guards.
  • Use the automatic-teller machine.
  • The people of Earth must decide: Either EVERYONE carries a gun, or NO ONE carries a gun.
  • The people of Earth should buy their corn from the store, not pick it themselves.

What gets me; what makes for obsessive watching, are the stories of women who survived the kind of depravity we fear most. Debra Puglisi, for example, was tending her rose garden when a sociopath attacked. After killing Debra’s husband, he raped and kidnapped her — the start of a five-day ordeal the details of which I will not describe except to say that it’s hard to imagine much worse. Debra survived — primarily thanks to her own quick, calm thinking — and became a victim advocate and public speaker.

I sent her a Facebook friend request after I saw the show. She likes Farmville. That’s what inspires me most, somehow. That one small thing. Because this woman, at one point, must have been sure her life was over — that, even though she was safe, she’d never again experience happiness or fun; never have a truly OK moment. But she did. She remarried; she works; she has grandchildren. She’s got a great sense of humor (she just posted a Martha Stewart video spoof that made me laugh like a drain). So, if Debra can live without constant fear and anxiety; if she can find joy and inspiration in small things, I will do the same. No matter what has happened to me, or what could happen.

In the Narnia of angry

Ever have a friend who makes you wonder what, exactly, she or he is doing in your life? A friend from whom oft wafts the sharp, alarming stink of sulfur? A friend you keep around because, well, she or he is interesting/stimulating/fun when not making you unhappy?

I just dropped that friend. It was difficult because I love all my friends and have a high tolerance threshold for human foibles. I mean, am I perfect? But said friend — hereafter referred to as “Dr. Crazyknickers” — brought to the table an inimitable mix of passive-aggressive pissery and pseudo-intellectual pontification not seen upon the Earth since the day Ayn Rand died — a quality impossible to describe in English but for which the Germans probably have a word. He also enjoyed borrowing my skirts and whinging about how it was “(his) turn to be someone’s “girlfriend.”

Please marvel, openmouthed, at the following rough timeline:

Dec. 22: An e-mail from Crazyknickers arrives to say he’ll be in town for a week; can he get back the graphic novel he lent me? I say, Sure! We don’t decide on an exact day or time, though. I make sure he knows that I’m having a rough holiday season and may not be much fun.

Dec. 23 (morning): Two calls from Dr. C. on my phone. One is a drawling, condescending voicemail — he’s channeling Lillian Hellman — the other, a hang-up. I call back; no answer. I get another e-mail later, though: When can we meet? Can we meet right now? 

Dec. 23 (evening): Text message: Can I get my books back? I reply, Sure! and await further instructions. None come.

Dec. 24: Family day. I turn my phone off, but when I check it at midnight, I have a text:. 11:30 now ooout when i cN come by toNite.Book. What? It’s Christmas Eve. I’m watching the Washington, D.C. Basilica Mass with a cup of sipping chocolate and a lapful of cats. I make a mental note to mail the damn thing to him after the holidays. I also realize why I’ve been resistant to seeing him. It’s not because I don’t have the time. It’s not because I don’t care about him. It’s because he’s emotionally tone-deaf and exhausting; the emotional equivalent of having my forehead middle finger-flicked ’til it’s bruised. He’s interesting to be around, and his oddities are fine when I’m in a good mood, but not now. Not at the most emotionally pungent time of the year. I remember how he embarrassed me at a party by asking over and over again for my pretty friend’s phone number, while ignoring my less-pretty friend when she tried to (politely) converse with him. I remember how it hurt when he asked me how it felt to be “falling rapidly” out of my upper-middle-class background. I remember many things he’s said or done that were rude, inappropriate, and creepy, and I don’t reply to the message. I get another at 1 a.m.

Dec. 25: More texts. Obviously, my lack of reply is causing him to want to MAKE ME reply. He becomes increasingly persistent and agitated. I refuse to deal with this on Christmas Day, and I’m not going to reward this kind of behavior. I table it for tomorrow. I still want to smooth the whole thing over.

Dec. 26: He posts on my Facebook wall, and his tone is so weird and off-putting that one of my friends responds, alarmed. They get into it a little bit. Embarrassed, I reply as politely as I can that I’m spending Christmas with my family and I’ll mail the book to him. He messages me to tell me how angry he is about this — “A week is more than enough time to return my property!” — and says that he “doesn’t have much faith” that I’ll return the book. His passive-aggressive, wispy-sad-pushy, ersatz-victim, blamey-blame — DAMMIT THERE IS NO ENGLISH WORD — tone pushes me past the point of no return. I HAVE GONE THROUGH THE WARDROBE DOOR TO ANOTHER WORLD OF ANGRY. I AM IN THE NARNIA OF ANGRY, WITH THE FAUNS AND THE TURKISH DELIGHT. I text him back. I say he is rude, inappropriate, and creepy, and I tell him not to contact me again. This feels amazing because it’s true, and because it’s the first time I’ve ever said it. To anyone. No matter how deserved. He texts back. I don’t read anything beyond the first word (“Whatever”). Instead, I delete the message and all previous messages, and text again to say that any further contact from him will be considered harassment. I hear nothing further.

So. The moral of the story is, purge your life of avoidable asshats. Don’t waste time wondering why they’re asshats, blaming yourself, or trying to fix it. I held onto this toxic friendship because I value my friends and hated to think there was someone in the bunch who could be so self-absorbed yet so un-selfaware; who could stalk across my boundaries in such a demanding, hurtful way. I made excuses — he’s stressed out! He just got fired! He’s having gender difficulties! — in a way I’ll never do again. I don’t have to be nice and forgiving and understanding to everyone, at all costs. The world won’t end if I’m not. I will shed the toxic, just like when I had colon hydrotherapy and raspberry seeds came out even though I hadn’t eaten raspberry seeds in months. That stuff really sticks around if you don’t get after it.


*I NEVER WANTED TO BORROW THE DUMB THING ANYWAY. He kept offering, though, and I felt awkward refusing. My first mistake.

the newest surprise.

This week, we had an emergency lockdown at school after a gun was spotted on campus. The kids and I huddled in one corner of the room behind a barricade of desks as we waited for the all-clear; as we listened for noise in the silent hallway. Finally, we heard footsteps, followed by every classroom door swinging open slowly. The footsteps stopped outside our door. Someone turned the handle; came in. I’ve never been so glad to see a police officer in my life.

Everything was OK. But I realized a new thing about being a teacher: Something kicks in to make you fiercely protective of the kids. In that moment, those kids were mine; they were in my care; and even if I couldn’t save them all I was going to die using my body as a shield. It felt primitive; instinctual — like something that had been ready and waiting in me for years. Like generations of good mothers had prepared me.

I Touch The Future, But Sometimes I Want To Give It A Detention: One morning in the life of a high school teacher

7:25 a.m.: Unlock classroom door for a dozen teenage GSA queers, one of whom is weeping because she “just can’t take the drama anymore.” Comfort her while taking care not to make any physical contact. Let queers start Hot Cheetos party while I check voice and e-mail (both full. Grades are due today).

7:51 a.m.: Two girls come by to ask if they can do a “big extra-credit thing or whatever” in order to avoid failing my class. Final grades are due a week from today. I say no, because they each have a half-dozen extant missing assignments and are running a 23% and a 17%, respectively. They sigh and shuffle towards the door.

7:56 a.m. A student comes by — he won the scholarship I recommended him for! We high-five and get teary. Someday, he’ll be my heart surgeon or my tax attorney. No one wants to major in English anymore.

8:00 a.m.: Bell rings. Six students are in their seats. I start explaining what we’re going to do today: Theme vs. motif!

8:01-8:12 a.m.:  Fifteen more students wander in. They shuffle their bags and phones around, and chatter back and forth until I stop what I’m doing and tell them it’s time to focus.

8:14 a.m.: I finish explaining the day’s task. Students start working, but a confluence of hormones and distracting technology causes them to stop every 1.5 minutes to ask what they’re supposed to be doing. Here’s how they preface their questions: “Miss? Miss? MISS?” I refrain from responding with, “I AM 37 YEARS OLD. I HAVE A CAT AND THREE SWEATERS THAT ARE OLDER THAN YOU. I HAVE SPILLED MORE MARIJUANA THAN YOU WILL EVER SMOKE. DO NOT REFER TO ME AS ‘MISS.”

8:59 a.m.: First period leaves. Second period arrives. Rinse and repeat. One kid in the front is peering at me from between his thumb and forefinger, making a pinching motion. What the fuck? Oh. He’s crushing my head.

9:41 a.m.: A girl breaks down in tears as I’m explaining the difference between “theme” and “motif” (because it’s Friday, the kids’ brains repel this information like Scotchguard repels cat puke — willfully and well). I take her into the hall, thinking don’tbepregnant don’tbepregnant pleasedon’tbepregnant. She’s not. She’s upset because her grandfather has been taken hostage by the Mexican Mafia. I don’t know how to respond to this except to say, “Maybe it’ll be OK?” I try to give her my full attention but can’t, because through my classroom window I see kids taking out their phones. They are MARRIED to those goddamn phones. Phones are severely Not Allowed, and my principal does frequent stop-ins. I fantasize about confiscating the phones, setting them on fire in the middle of my classroom, and making the kids watch the pile burn.

10:28: I have to pee. I have to pee. I have to pee. But I can’t leave until the bell rings.

10:35: Lunchtime! I pee with grateful fervor, then try to work up some enthusiasm for a tuna sandwich at this hour. Ech. I turn off the lights and hide in a corner so no one will come in and talk to me about grades.

11:03: Fourth period. The kids come in smelling like corn dogs. No fewer than four of them interrupt me as I’m trying to start class: “What did I miss yesterday? I wasn’t in school because I stayed home sick/had a chorus performance/was visiting my Nana in the hospital/thought it was Saturday.” I ask them to check the “What Did I Miss Yesterday? notebook, labeled as such and conveniently located at eye level at the front of the classroom. At this very moment, in other countries, people their age are marrying, gainfully employed, and raising their own children.

11:58: Fire drill. Fuck. As I gather them up like ducklings — “Can I take my phone?” “Are we coming back?” “Is the building on fire?” “MISS? MISS?” I realize that I won’t be able to get them back on task when we return to class. And that I’m going to have to surreptitiously spot-check hands for fire alarm ink spray.

Next, in Part II: One Afternoon in the Life of a High School Teacher: I am observed by the State Department of Education whilst running a 103-degree fever.

Je souhaite que je parle français

If I’d paid more attention in high school French, I might be able to understand this blog. Am thrilled that a French radfem has linked to me, but I don’t know a word of the language so I ran it through Google Translator. Thereby, the blog’s title becomes I Rotten Patriarchate. So awesome.

Here’s what is probably elegant, scholarly French:

Considère que les victimes de la pornographie /prostitution ne sont pas les femmes qui sont violées / torturées (pour les besoins du film, ou par le client prostitueur ou conjoint qui exige des femmes de faire les mêmes choses qu’il a vu dans le dernier film porno) mais les hommes, devenus accro à la pornographie. Ce terme révèle que ce sont des hommes qui pestent car ils se rendent compte avec horreur que les industries pornographiques ne se soucient pas du tout du bien-être des précieux petits flocons de neige que sont les hommes; ils s’en foutent, tout ce qui les intéresse c’est l’argent. Homme se sent blessé dans son ego. Bouhou.

Here’s what Google Translator does to it:

Recognizes that victims of pornography/prostitution are women who are raped/tortured (for the purposes of the film, or the spouse or prostituting clients requiring women to do the same things he saw in the last porn film) but men become addicted to pornography. Men are ranting because they realize with horror that the porn industry do not care at all well-being of the precious little snowflakes that are men; all they are interested in is money. Man feels wounded in his ego. Bouhou.

I love that “Bouhou” needs no translation.

What a miracle the Internet is, eh? We can support each other; listen to each other; share ideas; be in each other’s lives — even though most of us can’t afford to travel. How else would I meet a French feminist, or feminists in Krten, Germany; Cheshire, England; Sydney, Australia; Arhus, Denmark; even Overland, Kansas or Washington, D.C.?I wouldn’t. I’d think I was alone. It’s a relief to know I’m not.

Also, here is a hairless cat, just chillin’:

My burning concern

Have any of you experienced the horror of recurrent yeast infections? Yeast infections with no apparent cause? And then every dyke and her ex-girlfriend wants to help by enumerating why it’s probably your fault?

“It’s probably a wheat sensitivity.”

“You still eat DAIRY? Ooh.”

“Yeast feeds on sugar.”

“My homeopath says you must have unresolved stress. Or diabetes.”

I’ve eaten wheat all my life and I put cream in my coffee and I never met a cookie I didn’t like and OF COURSE I have unresolved stress: I’m alive. That doesn’t mean I ought to be able to bake a nice hot loaf of bread in my vagina.

My vagina was FINE when I ate more wheat/dairy/sugar than I do now; and FINE when I was emotionally tortured daily by my still-kind-of-a-man ex-partner. So I don’t UNDERSTAND.

These yeast infections don’t care what I eat or don’t eat; where I am in my cycle; whether I’m anxious or comatose. I went to the doctor and all I got was a $200 invoice (my insurance didn’t cover it, but bet you any money they’d pay up for Viagra). I’ve tried every drugstore remedy there is; every incarnation of Diflucan, but the little bastard keeps returning. And then the dykes and their ex-girlfriends want to help with homeopathic, Wiccan, magickal cures. I have tried:

  • A clove of garlic wrapped in cheesecloth and nestled, you know, in my portal of life
  • Apple cider vinegar
  • Probiotics by mouth
  • Yogurt by vagina (wouldn’t that be a good brand name for an all-women’s yogurt company in, say, Oregon? Yogurt By Vagina.
  • Tea tree oil (full-strength; that was one hell of an afternoon).

One time, I got so desperate that I drew a hot bath and tried them all at once. I floated there in the Pussy Soup for awhile, feeling ridiculous. And still itchy.

I want to make a salient feminist point here! Of some kind! But I think maybe what I’m after is sympathy (Hallmark doesn’t make a card for this) and perhaps ideas for a few treatments I haven’t yet tried. Has anyone ever used boric acid? I’m scared to try it, because its name includes the word “acid.”