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avatar sunday @ urgent care

November 18th, 2012 — 4:35pm

I self-diagnose.
this is not unusual for me.
me being me.
if i have a pain, or a twitch, or an unusual symptom i google it, and then i self-diagnose.

i am not a doctor but i play one on google.

i have been in excruciating pain for about seven, eight days.
i have googled myself into a frickin’ spin.
i have a pain that runs from my (right) shoulder to my elbow from my elbow to my hand. at first i thought nothing of it. a twinge. but days passed and the pain persisted and i wasn’t sleeping, which by the way, was so deeply, deeply depressing because of how faithful i am to my beloved ambien… but i digress… i went for acupuncture, which kinda helped. not fully. but kinda. sorta. after two sessions, my acupuncturist put this gooey, smelly patch on my shoulder and said that it was going to pull out all the toxins. i was to leave it on for 48 hours and then remove it and then apply, rub in, vegetable oil to the area.

okie dokie.

the patch, the toxins, the vegetable oil.
did not help.
not one bit.

i am not sleeping.
i am cranky.
i am irritable.
i am cursing ambien.
i am alternating hot & cold.
i am tossing & turning.
i am fed up.

this morning i tell ken i want to go to urgent care ASAP. he tells me that there’s a football game on, and asks: how about going tomorrow. i tell him i have an idea: how about he toss me a football, i’ll fall down and then he can take me to urgent care and we both win. a win-win. he says no-no. i tell him that our marriage may not survive this. he doesn’t take the threat seriously. i leave in a huff and drive myself to urgent care.

i get to urgent care and there is not a soul in the emergency room. not a soul. just me. my immediate thought is hmmm maybe not a good urgent care place. i give the receptionist my photo ID and my health insurance and explain to her that possibly i have bursitis, or maybe tendinitis, or possibly possibly the beginning of a heart attack or a clogged artery, or two. she nods as she types in my information into the computer, the bubble over her head reads: wow, this broad is fucking cuckoo.

i am taken into an examining room. the nurse is obese. seriously obese. she weighs maybe 450 pounds, and looks like she’s about to keel over. i feel like i’m in a stephen king novel. she takes my blood pressure and pulse. i am perfect, she says. just perfect. i tell her that i’m not perfect. that perfection is overrated. how can i be perfect i say when i’m clearly unwell. she looks me straight in the eye and says, “no, you are perfect. perfect blood pressure, perfect pulse. perfect.” the bubble over my head reads: “wow, where do they find these nurses, i’m having a possible heart attack and…” just then the doctor walks in. a jovial well dressed guy who can’t seem to bend his arm. he asks me what the problem is. i tell him that i’m in excruciating pain, my right shoulder and right elbow, and he looks me right in the eye and laughs, and says, “i’m in the same exact pain. shoulder, elbow, hand. been in pain for a month. i don’t know what it is.”

really, i say, i’m not encouraged. you’re in the same pain i am and you’re the doctor…
yeah, he says, i am.
i’m the doctor.

how about we take some x-rays. he says.
how about i get to see a new doctor who can diagnose me and make me feel so much better. the bubble over my head reads.
okay. i say.

i go into the x-ray room. a lovely technician with a happy face takes a few x-rays and asks me to wait while she ‘takes a looksie’ before giving them to the doctor. the doctor who has the same exact pain as me.

as i sit there, waiting, i hear her say out loud: OH MY GOD.

and in that moment, in my mind, i went from having bursitis to having terminal cancer, i went from life to death, i went from ken is such a selfish, selfish human being to wishing he were with me holding me making me feel better. i went from wanting a caesar salad, to longing for a chopped liver sandwich which made me think about my mother and then i thought, sure, sure, sure i’m this close thisclose to death of course i’m thinking of my mother, of course. chopped liver and my mother, and then i thought chopped liver… what am i chopped liver? and then i thought huh… what am i chopped liver?

in 30 seconds flat i went from bursitis, to oh my god i’m dying, to a stand-up comedy act in the catskills.

the happy face technician comes in the room. she looks at me, i look at her. she says: i’m so sorry we have to retake the x-ray, i screwed up. they were all blurry.

you mean i don’t have cancer of the elbow? i ask.
no, she says, no. how silly.

i tell her that i’m a little concerned because the doctor has the same thing i have, and he doesn’t seem to know what it is. so, i ask her what she thinks.

after a few moments of great thought, she says: “have you googled it?”

square fucking one.

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avatar Sandy, Bob, and Barack

November 7th, 2012 — 1:32pm

Panic set in.
It began where panic always sets in for me: my chest, that solar plexis area. that holy shit, oh my god, i need tums, pepto bismal, maybe even an colon cleansing.
i often think i’m having a stroke. that’s where i go first. but then i go onto google & search & read all the symptoms, all the possibilities, and then i come to the conclusion that no, no, no… i am not having a stroke, i’m merely having a complete anxiety & panic attack.

this doesn’t encourage me, but it eases my mind.

a hurricane was coming. sandy.

we were in the batten down the hatches mode. ken was stoking fires, building fires. preparing for the “no power, no water, no phones … days.” filling the tub with water. strategically placing newspapers, and kindling where he could find them in the dark. i was pacing and worrying, and calling on every god i’ve ever called on to keep me from fraying, falling apart, while trying to decide if it was necessary for me to color co-ordinate my panty and bra drawer.

i am a city girl.
no matter that i’ve lived here in the woods for over 20 years.
i am a city girl.
at heart.
at soul.
in my closet.
but i am a country girl who is deep, deep in love with a guy named ken who is a country boy at heart, at soul, in his messy closet.

the lights blew.
they just fucking blew.
it was quick.
fast & furious.

it was fierce.
it howled at us.

we were prepared.
ken was completely and utterly prepared.
my guy.

the first night felt sexy.
romantic.
candlelight, and dinner, and a bottle of champagne. we ate, we drank, we went to bed at 8 o’clock. it felt kinda normal, weird with a side of uneasy, but kinda normal.

the next day, day 2, was filled with nervous energy.
my nervous energy.
ken stoked fires in our wood-burning stove, built a fire in our fireplace.
i rearranged some furniture and cursed the internet gods.
we had no phones, no cell service, no heat, no power.
that night wasn’t sexy.
it was becoming tedious.

day three.

ken reminded me that we had each other.
“oh, babe, it’s like being on vacation on a remote island…”

i didn’t feel the same.
i was beginning to feel very unhappy & joyless & holy shit cranky.
i wanted to score some crack and give myself a crazy pass.
“i’m a city girl, ken.”
“well, hon, the city is completely dark.”
“fine, ken. be negative,”

i was beginning to hear the distant calling of a hotel room. a toilet flushing. a vacuum running. a dishwasher.

i longed for a dimmer switch.

we stayed with our friends at night.
friends whose power had come back.
so fortunate, so lucky. so loved.
great food, great wine.

this brought up a whole other layer for me.
a suppressed layer.
asking for help.
needing help.
feeling helpless.

it pushed all my buttons. every single one. i felt needy, and less than and oh my god… i wanted to crawl into a dark hole, until i realized that i had been in a dark hole and decided that wasn’t making me feel better. dark holes are not comforting.

i allowed the pain & discomfort to move through me. like a bad flu. i took xanax and drank plenty of fluids.

we came home during the day to feed the cats, stoke the fires, argue incessantly about generators, and on one occasion – because god knows when you’re in the dark you can re-arrange drawers unknowingly, and then you can’t tell the difference between one frickin’ tube from another – i ran a massive amount of K-Y JELLY through my hair thinking it was hair product. i can’t even begin to tell you what that smelled like, and because i had to wait until i got back to my friends house with power & showers to wash my hair, i was tempted to shave my head.

‘what’s that smell, it’s coming from you?”
‘my vagina, ken. it’s my vagina.’
‘really? it’s coming from your head.’
‘see that. now you know how smart my vagina is.’

i couldn’t get the k-y out fast enough.

but we lived through that.
and yes, yes, god yes, it gave new meaning to getting & giving head.

day 5

the cats were freezing. they were not happy to see us when we returned with treats. ken made a roaring fire, kept the house perfectly warm, and we threw blankets on the floor so bella & lotus could cuddle and talk about us behind our backs. i could have sworn bella told me to fuck myself. we emptied the refrigerator. ken wanted me to toss everything into a compost bucket, i wanted to toss everything into the fucking garbage can. we compromised. don’t ask.

it all became so very tedious, and hard; feelings were hurt, words were said, and a lot of fuck you’s were shared, tossed about, recycled.

day 6

sunday.
the ny giants were playing that evening.
ken lives for them.
he lives for them.
laura and florin invited us over for dinner, wine, and for ken to watch the giants. ken was thrilled. ecstatic. i was now in ‘i wanna move to paris, and smoke cigarettes, and wear fabulous clothes from agnes b., and write postcards saying: wish you were here…’

i was cranky, mean, nasty, and oh so fucking unhappy.
my vagina was dry, my hair was sticky, my clothes were dirty.

my panty & bra drawer were empty.

i drank wine and dreamed of starting a new life over anonymously. you know, get in a car, and drive until you run out of gas … but then i realized that i would end up about a half-hour from home since they were now rationing gas in our area. 20 bucks wouldn’t get me far.

and then the call came from kathy (my neighbor/goddess), the power was back on and the NY Giants lost.

win.
lose.

life.
it was going to go back to normal.

but normal – normalcy – is all relative.

the next day as we were reveling in the beauty & the sheer generosity of power, and electricity, and the simple things we take for granted on a daily basis, ken’s brother was taken off life-support.

the irony: we were up and running, and bob (ken’s brother) was off and getting ready to bow out.

the thing is, bob felt utterly powerless his whole life. he felt defeated by life. he made choices that kept him unhappy, unfulfilled. he chose sorrow over joy, anger over forgiveness, misery over love. he allowed his life to remain stagnant. he never let go of his sadness or his past. he didn’t know how to live without regret.

you hold on to pain, and pain holds onto you. it grabs you, and keeps you in it’s grip.

we are on this earth to own the power (internally & externally) we have, to stand tall and speak up, to say no to any and every cruelty, to any and every abuse we heap on ourselves and others, to live our lives with passion and belief, and the absolute conviction that we can change our destiny by letting go of our past.

and today on day 8…

finally.
finally.

at this very moment – the future, along with my vagina – feels much safer.

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avatar i am bone tired…a blog rant.

October 27th, 2012 — 3:46pm

i was just at walmart.
yes i was.
let’s get beyond that.
thank you.
i have experienced tornadoes at walmart, a near death experience at walmart, three very unhappy unpleasant judgmental women at walmart but today…today … i experienced what i would categorize a vile human experience at walmart, or more accurately, in their parking lot.

just for the record, incase you don’t know, we’re expecting a storm here on the east-coast the size of the universe so as you can imagine there were tons & tons of folks at walmart. stocking up. water, juice, pet food. frozen, fresh, you name it – it was being stocked up on. donut holes, that kinda stocking up.

i’m at my car, i’m putting the bags filled with storm items in the back of my car – the trunk – when a car pulls in right next to me – in the next parking spot – and the driver’s door swings open, and smashes into my passenger door, and before i can even say holy mother of god, the woman gets out of her car, stands up, and says right to my face: i am so fucking tired of you white people. as i pull the trunk slash backdoor down … she gets back into her car, and drives the fuck away.

but what didn’t go unnoticed – because i caught her eye – was that she saw our OBAMA 2012 sticker on the back trunk slash door.

i am so fucking tired of you white people. she said to me.
well, let me just say for the record i am not tired of black people.
not one bit.

but i am gonna tell you what i am tired of.

i am tired of white men, snarky, unattractive white men, telling me what i can do with my body.
i am tired of my OBAMA BIDEN sign being kicked and violated and ripped from the front of my house every fucking week.
i am tired, bone tired, of people thinking because they have more money that they’re better, smarter more entitled then the guy or girl working their bones off to pay their mortgage and get their kids through school.
i am exhausted, thoroughly fucking exhausted that there are women out there who don’t support my rights as a woman. (i mean who the fuck are you?)
i am wiped out that there are heterosexual people on this earth who don’t want homosexual people to have the same exact loving equal rights.
i am so tired of men redefining rape and incest and pedophilia.
i am throughly whipped to shit that we do not protect victims.
i am tired to the core that women are constantly violated, constantly abused, constantly mistreated.
i am more than tired that we protect rapists and pedophiles and murderers and heinous horrific acts of crime.
i am so wiped out tired that PRO-LIFE is not defined as any single human being that wakes up every single fucking day thrilled to pieces to be alive.
i am so tired that PRO CHOICE is treated as a crime rather than an opinion or decision.
i am so tired that women make 77 cents on the dollar.
i am so very very very tired that there is barely a middle class left in America.
i am bone tired that there isn’t more kindness goodness joy generosity and love in the world.
i am tired to pieces that people still talk behind your back after they’ve kissed you on your cheek.
i am wiped out that folks are often full of shit and judgmental.
i am exhausted beyond belief that there are tons & tons of double standards.
i am weary tired that how we look and how we dress and what we wear still defines us.
i am tired that crows feet are not considered sexy.
i am tired that being good enough is not enough.
i am tired that people use god as an excuse for bad, awful, shitty behavior.

i am so tired of racism, and sexism.
i am so tired of living in fear and worry.

i am tired, bone weary tired that there is so much hatred & intolerance & meanness & anger in the world.

i am so tired that i am gonna pour myself a cup of coffee, kick my feet up, and come november 6th:
I AM VOTING FOR THE BLACK GUY because i am not one bit tired of him.

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avatar Our Interview with Bill Patrick on Feminism, Shame, Healing and being a Good Man

October 18th, 2012 — 10:31am

Since the publication of our anthology, Hollye and I have been asking a few good men to share their stories, experiences with us about Shame. We had the good fortune and pleasure of meeting Bill Patrick through Brooke Elise Axtell, one of the contributors in Dancing at The Shame Prom.

Bill is quite the guy: true blue, generous, kind, nurturing and a pro-feminist!
Here is our interview.

Tell us a little bit about your life path, and the work you’ve done with victims of abuse

I grew up in a violent household. My father could be the most amazingly kind and generous and loving man in the world, and he could also be the meanest. And you never knew quite which one you were going to face. Most of the abuse was verbal and emotional. But there were times it got pretty damn scary. I called the police on him once. They responded but didn’t intervene, other than to de-escalate the immediate situation. (This was in the days before “mandatory arrest” policies.)

Growing up in my house, feminism was actually a positive word. My mother, who is a strong woman, has always identified as a feminist. Despite this fact, she found herself being mistreated by my father. This just goes to show that even strong women — even feminist-identified women — can find themselves involved with men who treat them badly.

Seeing the way she was treated, and experiencing mistreatment myself, showed me that boys who grow up in violent households do not have to follow the path of the abuser. Instead, we can follow another path — the path of empathy for our mother, and that we can become allies in the struggle for women’s equality, rather than just another violent enforcer of male supremacy.

At 18 I got out of the house. I got therapy. I got away from it all. I went to college 3,000 miles from my hometown and I studied something totally unrelated to women, to men, and to men’s violence toward women. Men’s violence, I had decided, was something that was my past. It would not be part of my future. I had seen enough of it for one lifetime.

Of course that stance proved terribly naïve. Men’s violence is all around us, even if we are not the one doing it. In college I saw atrocious behaviors acted out by young men toward young women. I had a number of woman friends get raped by guys they trusted. There was a large fraternity scene on my campus, and the male frats were absolutely horrible in their treatment of women and gay men. For two years I tried not to get involved in this situation – choosing instead to cynically mock the frat boys and their terrible behavior. But I know all too well what it is like to be hurt by men’s violence. So although I had gotten out of my household alive and (relatively) intact, I increasingly felt like I could not walk away.

Soldiers talk about never abandoning their wounded buddies out on the battlefield. I felt the same way. How could I just ignore the fact that women on my campus were being abused and assaulted? You just can’t leave people out there in harm’s way – people who are being harmed. Rape was happening in my community. This was a fact that I could no longer ignore.

At that time I also read a book called I Never Called It Rape: The Ms. Report on Recognizing, Fighting, and Surviving Date and Acquaintance Rape by Robin Washaw. That book contains a powerful indictment of fraternities. At this time, too, several unbelievably misogynist newsletters written by one of the fraternities came to light. In the resulting outrage, I joined several other students in leading a movement to deal with this situation. We demanded that the all-male fraternities admit women or lose their special status on campus. (There were already several co-ed fraternities on that campus — and those organizations never caused any problems.)

After graduating from college, I began to work in the mental health field. A few years later I went to pursue my MSW. I was living in Portland, Oregon. At that time Portland Women’s Crisis Line had an intense training and education program for men who were interested in becoming allies to the feminist anti-violence struggle.

At the end of the first three-week training I attended (I went through several over the years), the men who had participated each shared how the training had impacted them. I remember saying to the feminist anti-violence advocates who had conducted the sessions:

“This is the first time in a long, long time that I feel truly sane. You speak the language that I understand. The world you describe is the world that I know. The world that I live in.”

I realized that within this feminist anti-violence social change organization, even though roles for men were quite limited, that I had found a home. (And I have continued to feel that way, although I currently live in Canada. A while back I was visiting my friends at our local sexual assault crisis centre. And I said, “When I come in here I feel sane!” Because in my experience it is only the feminist anti-violence organizations – and their perspective on life – that even begin to be able to accurately describe what is going on in our world around issues of violence and abuse, around issues of gender, around issues of race, around issues of oppression in general. The feminists are the only ones who are able to describe the world I live in.)

During the second year of my MSW program I was able to set up an internship with Portland Women’s Crisis Line. They had been wanting to offer a free, community-based healing group for male survivors of childhood sexual abuse. I became that group’s coordinator and co-facilitator. Although I was not a survivor of sexual abuse myself, I found that my own experiences of abuse and powerlessness were a good source of empathy and understanding for the group members’ experiences.

Ever since that time I have sought to integrate an analysis of social power relations into the counseling I do. I am often startled at how non-political therapy tries to be. As if our trials and tribulations somehow exist outside of our immediate social context! (They don’t.) At the same time, I am often frustrated by how many efforts at social change are totally uninformed by the knowledge we now have about how human beings function. As a society, we try to do therapy that is nonpolitical, and we try to do political activism that is not psychologically informed. In my ideal world, these things would connect. Deeply.

I worked for quite a while as a therapist in various settings, and then decided to return to grad school to do research on men’s violence. I had grown weary of doing front-line work with survivors of child abuse, child sexual abuse, sexual assault, and domestic violence. Actually, I never grew weary of this work. It is absolutely amazing to watch people heal from their victimization, from their trauma. The human spirit has an amazing capacity to endure and to recover from horrific harms. What I grew weary of — what weighed on me — was the fact that there was an almost-endless line of survivors of men’s violence patiently waiting outside the doors of the places I worked. People who were waiting for the care and the healing that would help them to feel whole again. But no matter how many people we helped, there were always so many more who needed our help.

I felt like the person in that story who gets tired of pulling children out of the river, and who finally decides to head upstream to see just who or what is throwing the children in the river in the first place! I did my Ph.D. research examining the relationship between men’s restricted emotional lives and their violence against women. My research question was this: is men’s tendency to load all of our emotional energy into rage and anger related to men’s abusive behavior in relationships?

The answer that I came up with was: it is, and it isn’t. (A finding that is perhaps satisfying only in the ivory tower of academia.)

These days I find myself back in a counseling role, attempting to do politically-informed therapy, and doing profeminist activism on the side.

My partner and I are raising a happy four year-old girl. Who happens to be a strong feminist.

How did you become a feminist?

My mother identified as a feminist. So that was a powerful experience for a young boy: to see a woman asserting that women are thoroughly equal to men, and that they deserve all of the opportunities that we give to men. And yet my father mistreated my mother. So that was a powerful lesson in just how powerful patriarchy really is. That even a strong woman can find herself being mistreated.

In retrospect, I can see that I grew up exposed both to my mother’s feminist ideology and to my father’s bad behavior as proof as to why we need feminism so much!

I’d like to include a word on the vocabulary I use, if I may. Over the years I have encountered some strong feminist women who resent the fact that there are men out there who refer to themselves as “feminists.” Feminism, this argument holds, is deeply and inextricably linked to the lived experience of being a woman in the world — an experience that I will never have. I understand that not everyone agrees with this stance. But what I have done, as have most of the men who are strong activists in this area have done, is to adopt the terms profeminist or feminist-allied to describe my work.

Can men be “feminists”? Or does one have to have lived as a woman in order to be a “feminist”? As someone who has lived all of my life as a man, I don’t think that I have enough information to be able to answer that question. All I know is that I love doing the work of gender justice. And I certainly don’t want to needlessly alienate some very strong feminist friends by ignoring their thoughts and feelings about men appropriating the word feminist.

After having read women’s stories in Dancing at the Shame Prom, do you think men process shame differently than women?

Yes. I think that in general women are more honest than men are in telling the stories of our lives. And I think honesty is critical in resolving shame. In my experience, women are more likely to admit failure, more likely to admit humiliation, more likely to admit to feeling like they are not good enough. And more likely then to seek help. So many of us men continue to hold onto a vision of ourselves as perennially capable, competent, and wise. But there are things in life that we cannot do. There are things that we don’t know. But I believe that in refusing to honestly acknowledge our weaknesses, we men have difficulty uncovering our true strengths.

As I write this, I realize that I am really talking about men like me. I am speaking here mainly about men who are white and heterosexual. In my personal and professional life, I have often found that men who are gay are quite a bit more honest than we straight guys are. I have also found that men of color are also often more honest than we white men are. (Some of the research on domestic violence supports my sense of this. There have been studies that show that African-American men were far more likely to admit their violence toward a partner than white men were.)

I am beginning to think a lot about the idea that maybe social power and personal honesty are inversely related. It seems that the more social power a person has, the less honest he or she is likely to be. Maybe this is because the social hierarchies that put men above women, white people above people of color, and straight people above people who are LGBT, are themselves all based on fictions. On lies. Maybe it’s tough to be honest with yourself when you are sitting at the top of something that is built on a foundation of lies.

We spend a lot of time talking about how good people have it when they are at the top. But maybe there is also a cost associated with being up there. Perhaps the price to pay is the loss of a sense of self. The loss of the ability to be honest and genuine. Because maybe on some level you know that occupying the penthouse is merely living on the top floor of a house of cards.

I think that honesty is critical in the resolution of shame, and I think that a lot of us white, straight men are a lot less good at being honest — even with ourselves.

How has shame played a role in your life?

One day, in a spectacular fit of rage, my father screamed at me: “You were a mistake! I never meant to have you anyway!” For a long time after that I carried a sense of needing to prove my worth in the world. I think that I was being driven by shame. By feeling unworthy. By feeling undeserving. Like I somehow had to pay rent for my place on the planet.

Through counseling and through other ways of exploring that issue, I have largely resolved it. However, living with that energy has had at least one long-term impact on me: I am highly conscious about how I spend my life energy. It seems to me that I have moved from a sort of compulsion to do good work (in order to earn my keep) to a desire to do good work simply as an end in itself. I no longer do good work as a way to pay to prove my worth — to make myself somehow a “better” person. I now do good work to make the world a better place.

As I think about this issue, it occurs to me that shame can perhaps bring gifts as well as pain. As with any trauma, the bad things that happen to us ultimately become a part of the fabric of our lives. And I think that the shame I carried actually propelled me to places I might not have gone had I not been driven by it. It led me to some accomplishments and awarenesses I might not have attained otherwise. I am not at all trying to minimize the harmfulness of a comment like the one that my father made. He was a total asshole to say something like that to a child. It was child abuse. Hearing that comment weakened me. But in the healing I became strong. I am reminded of the old Hemingway quote: “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places.”

What is on your dream-agenda for the future?

I would like to write. To counsel. To educate. To do my part to help eliminate men’s violence and to empower women.

I would also like to get a small sail boat. To see my young daughter grow healthy and happy. To live to a ripe old age with my amazing wife.

How would you define feminist?

As a man, I feel like I get out onto pretty thin ice when I seek to define what feminist means. Since feminism means so many things to so many different people, for me to attempt to define it would almost certainly very quickly lead to me having a disagreement with a woman over its meaning. And as a man, I really do not feel it is my place to debate with women the meaning of feminism. After all, who am I to say that what any woman claims as feminist is somehow wrong or incomplete?

I am much more comfortable describing what I think profeminist means. And to me it means supporting women’s liberation. It means supporting things that enhance women’s choices in life, and opposing those things that limit women’s choices. It is not about making those choices for women, or even suggesting that women should make certain choices. It is, rather, working to ensure that empowering options are there if and when a woman wants to choose them.

To me, being profeminist is also about de-centering the male experience. About no longer considering male as “normal” and female as “other.” It is also about understanding that there are many, many different female experiences, and many, many different male experiences.

This de-centering of the male experience also means making sure that I as a man do not dominate or take over women-sponsored activities and events. As men, it is part of our training to jump right in and take charge. To talk too much. (To write too much!) But that is the last thing that the feminist movement needs! To me, being a profeminist activist means embracing the role of being a true partner in the struggle for women’s empowerment. Sometimes that means being right there with women on the front lines, and at other times it means stepping back and staying out of the way. And sometimes it means encouraging other men to keep the hell out of the way as well!

In working with victims of abuse – the devastating horror of physical and emotional and spiritual abuse – how does shame play out in the healing process? i would imagine it begins with shame on me (self-hatred and loathing) and ends with, releases through shame on you. Is it possible for you to share/describe that journey?

As a therapist, I have long been interested in the role that shame plays in people’s lives. I often see clients who carry far too much of it. And I do believe that part of healing involves sloughing off that shame.
For some reason, when I work with clients, I often have song lyrics pop into my mind. (Sometimes it’s like I’ve got “Shrink Radio” playing in my head!) And when I think of healing from shame, I am reminded of words from the Annie Lennox song “The Gift”:
Take this overcoat of shame
It never did belong to me
It never did belong to me.
I find the image of shame as a heavy, uncomfortable, musty, smelly, ugly, constraining overcoat to be very powerful. And I love the picture of someone shrugging off their shame. Like shrugging off an old, horrid overcoat.
However, in my experience, it isn’t always necessary for the shame to be returned directly to the perpetrator. I absolutely agree that “shame on me” is typically a huge issue for most survivors of abuse. But as to the need to say “shame on you”? That is really a case-by-case situation. For some people, healing from abuse very much requires justice and accountability for the perpetrators of the abuse. Some people go as far as to participate in the prosecution of their abusers – to publicly say “shame on you.” For other people, however, it is enough just to let go of any sense of self-blame that they carry. To let go of any notion that they are forever damaged by what happened to them. As for the perpetrators, many survivors are content to leave them, like the shame, in the past.
One song that I think beautifully describes the process of shame and healing is Mary Chapin Carpenter’s amazing “Jubilee.” The song is a profound description of the process of healing and recovery. I am tempted to quote the entire song here. But I will content myself with just a few lines that seem especially germane to the issue of shame:
I can tell by the way that you’re searching for something that you can’t even name, that you haven’t been able to come to the table, simply glad that you came….
This song tells such a lovely tale of recognizing and healing from pain. I would strongly recommend that anyone who is struggling with the effects of abuse give it a few listens. I would also recommend that anyone working to recover from any kind of shame also give it an ear. And I would recommend that anyone who is in a helping role and is trying to assist others in recovering from shame also pay attention to the healing path it describes.

please check out his website and blog at:
http://billsprofeministblog.blogspot.com/

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avatar amy’s keynote speech, (the one she walked through fear to give….)

October 11th, 2012 — 10:28am

My greatest wish, my fervent wish is that all women awaken to their greatness.
This is my prayer, my wish, my goal, my desire.
This is what I wake up desiring.
This is what I go to bed hoping for.
That all women awaken to their greatness.
Pure.
Simple.
True.

I am thrilled to be here.
Thrilled.
There is a thread, my thread, a lifeline here in this room.
An enormous gorgeous, glorious, tapestry.
The comaraderie, the connections, the community.
I love that women lift each other, support each other, carry & nurture each other.
Individually we are unique, stunning, glorious creatures.
Collectively we are dynamic, powerful and spirited – there isn’t anything we cannot accomplish.

We lead by example.

For years and years I’ve been talking about how women should complete and not compete with each other. And I often wondered where this passion, mission came from.

I think I found the kernel…
That first common thread…

Let me share this story.

Years ago … many, many years ago, when I was much younger and thinner, actually, truthfully – I was a little girl and I was skinny as a rail – it was Hanukah. And I loved Hanukah. And all I wanted, all that I prayed for, longed for, wished for and waited for was the brand new hot off the conveyor belt Barbie doll. My mother found it at one of the big stores – in their toy department. The big night came, the big Hanukah night, and I feverishly ripped open the wrapping paper and there she was… absolutely fucking gorgeous.

My dream doll.
BARBIE.

The doll I wanted, longed for, wished for, and prayed for.
I fell instantly in love.
I wanted all of my clothing to have velcro and I wanted to live in a plastic house.
A few days later, we were going to Brooklyn, to visit my aunt Gertie and her family. We lived out on Long Island, so this was somewhat of a tradition. Hanukah. Brooklyn. Brookyln, Hanukah. My mom’s other sister was coming – visiting – from Indiana. And she was bringing my cousin – she and I are a couple of years apart. After all the kissing and hugging and oohing and aahing, and oh my god you look so good, and oh my god you look too thin and oh my god oh my god…

I show my cousin my brand new gorgeous Barbie doll and to say she swooned would be an understatement. She loved my Barbie. And In that moment I knew that she wanted my Barbie. My aunt told my mother that she had looked high and low for the doll, but that it was sold out. My mother turned to me and said, I want you to be a good girl and give her your Barbie doll.

I reluctantly and tearfully handed over my gorgeous beautiful doll – the one I prayed for, asked for, longed for, and wanted more than anything.
My cousin was ecstatic.
My mother felt powerful.
And more than that – she felt loved.
I was heartbroken.
Mortified.
Saddened.
That moment was imprinted on “my little girl soul.”

My mother thought – believed – she was being generous, kind, loving… but in truth,  she had often competed with her sisters for their love and by giving my cousin the doll she was proving that she was the better mom.

And I suppose being true to being my mothers daughter would have been much easier had I not wanted to be out in the world fully.

I wanted to be a writer.

And while writing is very solitary, very singular… my passion, my desire, was working, creating, collaborating with others. My passion required collaboration.

And so this where the little girl and the mother part ways.

Every single day we collaborate, work with others. Because all of life – every single bit of it – is about relationships. Some relationships are toxic and bad and aren’t worth the pursuit. Some are complicated, take time and have moments of grand difficulty but are most definitely worth navigating through.
And every single relationship teaches you something.

For example: my editing partner doesn’t like surprises, and last week, I surprised her twice. She sent me a kind loving email explaining – telling me – how she needed me to have her back. Her email made me respect her more. Like her more. Love her more. Not only do I have her back, but yes, god yes, she has mine, and neither one of us got our backs up within that exchange.

A loving honest collaboration.

I have had the great fortune in the past twenty odd years to work with some women who are extraordinary collaborators. Not all were perfect matches, but the ones that didn’t quite fit, didn’t match … taught me a valuable lesson.

Collaboration isn’t about everyone agreeing.
No, not at all.
It’s not about that.
It’s about bringing out the best in someone.
It’s about creating an environment where folks feel good and proud, and empowered.
It’s about being heard and being seen.
It’s about being able to say “I’m wrong, or… you’re right, this doesn’t work,”
It’s about being able to hear opinions and comments.
it’s about wanting others to be huge, and successful and rooting them on.

It’s about being able to let go. letting go of: the need to be right, the need to be the center of attention, the need to be the best, the brightest, the smartest.

Collaboration – a good collaboration – is hard work.
It requires acceptance.
Listening.

It requires patience, and kindness and the desire for all – everyone – to shine, to be huge.
It requires generosity of spirit and creativity.
It requires cultivating the passion and desire to be good, really good at your craft, really good at your life.
It requires stepping aside, and letting others have a voice, a space, an opportunity to step up and stand up.

It requires becoming whole.
Coming together, and yes, completing each other.

Wanting the very best for each other.

It requires love.

There isn’t a women in this room who doesn’t wish to be loved, supported, encouraged, inspired, held, lifted, nurtured, empowered.

to feel wanted.

to know that their voice, their life matters.

There isn’t a woman in this room who doesn’t long to feel hope, to believe in the beauty of her own life.
There isn’t a woman here who wouldn’t welcome generosity with open arms and an open heart.
There isn’t a woman here who doesn’t deserve to awaken to their greatness.

And so, the grown up Amy would tell her mother, “Oh Mom…Mom, you don’t need to give anything away to be loved.”

THANK YOU VERY MUCH.

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avatar how two she writers ‘fell in love’ and got published….

September 17th, 2012 — 11:10am

(From Amy Ferris)
Hollye and I met through She Writes.
It’s one of those girl writer meets girl writer and falls in love (in the best friend AND let’s write a book together kinda way) stories.
A wonderful tale.
Both Hollye and I are pretty all-out honest – open – in terms of our writing. I’m a huge advocate of writing/righting my life and speaking my truth. Ever since I sat down and wrote Marrying George Clooney, Confessions from A Midlife Crisis, I knew… I absolutely knew… that I couldn’t turn back. I loved writing from my soul.
My truth.
My story.
Sharing my darkness, my demons.
My life.
Shame has always played a part in my life. When I was a young girl, through my awkward teens, all the way into midlife and marriage – shame was a stain. In meeting Hollye, and in our getting to know each other, sharing our stories, talking weekly, we saw that our stories, our lives, were extraordinarily universal and intertwined. A kinship, a friendship, a partnership blossomed. With the anthology, Dancing at The Shame Prom we set out to encourage and inspire other women to do the same.
To tell their truth.
To speak their heart.
To offer up their stained lives.
27 stunning, courageous imperfectly perfect women raised their hands. Shared their stories, their secrets.
We were able to create an atmosphere where each and every woman could feel safe so they knew that they weren’t alone. Hollye & I went through some rough patches, as all partners do: feeling our way with each other, forgiving each other our foibles and flaws – our crazy-bad-ass days – working through the editing process, which is tough in and of itself. All of this was new territory. A big canvas. But we were determined to not only value and treasure the collaboration, but have that be the thread throughout the book. Each essay connects and threads beautifully into the next essay. Each essay on shame opens the door to the next story.
Our partnership is very much like that: we hold open the door for each other.
We wanted to start a dialogue with the word “shame,” and celebrate, full on, the courage it takes to share your shame, release your shame, and put it out in the world.
And yes, like all grand SHE WRITES love stories, we wrote and wrote and wrote … and got published, and yes, became better girl-friends.
You know, a happily ever after kinda story!

(From Hollye Dexter)
I started my blog a few years ago because of the crushing (but kind) rejection I finally got from the dream agent with whom I’d just spent six months in back and forth mode. Overwhelmed with feelings of failure, I blogged for the first time, and sent it out into cyberspace. A woman who I had just connected with on She Writes commented on my blog:

HOLLYE: never ever ever give up! i am actual proof of two agents saying no to my book, and now my memoir is out in the world and it’s so frickin’ liberating and scary and writing memoirs is scary scary scary…so DON’T GIVE UP. WRITE. be brilliant. be bold. fuck ’em. something amazing will happen. love, Amy Ferris

I was wowed by this new friend who barely knew me being so supportive, and not competitive. I bought and devoured her book Marrying George Clooney. Her writing was so honest and accessible, reading it felt like having a chat with your best friend. I added Amy on Facebook, and discovered that we had the same birthday. Before long, she and I became the best of friends. We would have long talks about life and love, and disappointments and courage. We started to write a few essays and blogs together, never competing, always championing one another. And one thing we agreed on – as writers we were going to be bold, be brave, and always tell the absolute truth. We challenged each other to write essays about shame and agreed to put a scary, revealing blog out on the same day….and WOW – the responses we got were overwhelming. People began to reveal their innermost secrets to us, and it became clear that each of them had thought they were the only one carrying hidden shame. Now we had a mission – to keep writing in this vein so other could see they weren’t alone. The phone conversations and blogs with Amy continued until we realized, after seeing one public persona after the next fall on his sword with shame, this was not just a year-long phone conversation that two women were having. This was a conversation that the whole world needed to be having. It needed to be a book. We knew brilliant women who were ballsy enough to take on this subject. And so, we gathered a collective of courageous girls, and together Amy and I wrote a proposal. The first publisher we went to – the one we really wanted- bought it! (And by the way, everyone told us, everyone, that it was impossible to sell an anthology in this market.)

So what is the moral of this publishing story? Writing our truth broke everything wide open, and like Amy promised, something amazing did happen. I found an amazing friend, and we published Dancing at the Shame Prom – an anthology full of brave writers with amazing stories – and ultimately, the truth brought us to what I would call amazing grace.

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avatar walk of shame (re-post)

September 15th, 2012 — 12:29pm

something or someone triggers a memory. it could be perfume, the smell of bazooka gum, lavender oil, a scent, a pair of shoes…

okay, so here’s the deal: i walked 35 blocks, from west 66th to 101st. upper west side. west end avenue.
actually, truthfully, i walked a bit more – i cut over to go to broadway – so, 38 blocks.
all toll 38 blocks.
a long frickin’ walk.

every three or four blocks – i had a strange, unsettling, uncomfortable weird memory jag. a memory jag is when you remember shit you did from say twenty, thirty, thirty-five years earlier, if in fact you’re older than say 50.

let me share some of those memories, thoughts, jags with you as i walked those 38 blocks:

huh, i slept with so & so in this building.
shit, i did drugs, bad drugs, in that building.
oh my god, i threw up in that lobby.
holy shit, i gave a blow job to so & so in that brownstone.
oh my god, that’s where i got robbed with whatshisname.
wow, that was a bad, bad, bad sex night.
whoa, that’s the block i had a bad, miserable fuck you, no no no fuck you fight.
oh jesus, i don’t remember his name, but i remember the apartment.
oh my god i did that there?
holy crap, she & i are no longer speaking.
ugh, that was a horrible, horrible night.
oh no no no no no, that was me. oh god, no. ugh.
i did what where?
I WORE THAT THERE THEN.

and then, finally, i got to the restaurant, and felt so awful, and so tired. and so shameful. i could barely stand up.
and then – THEN – i noticed a woman (who was sitting in a small group at a round table with other lovely looking people) looking – staring – at me and i thought, oh sure, sure, sure… she probably knew me back when, when i did all those things and wore all those clothes with those big shoulder pads, and oh my god i felt more shame & disgust and wanted to crawl into a ball & hide in a hole, when she smiled and pointed to my necklace and gave me a thumbs up.

oh thank god(dess).

and as i sipped my wine, i wondered (to myself, not out loud to the friends i was with) if everyone at the restaurant had a secret or two or three or four, or a memory or two or three or four that was lodged in their soul. maybe. surely. i mean we all do. bad moments, bad memories, bad experiences … we were young, foolish, wanted to be loved, wanted to be noticed, wanted attention. praise. some of us did bad things. dated bad people. wrote bad checks. wore bad clothes. gave blow jobs to strangers who later became hedge fund managers.

shame shame shame shame.

i drank myself silly.
and that will become another memory.

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avatar old McFerris has a farm…

September 10th, 2012 — 11:01pm

(to the tune of ‘Old McDonald had a Farm’)

a one and a two and a three:

old McFerris has a farm
e i e i OH
and on that farm he has a wife
e i e i UH-OH
with an UH-OH here and an UH-OH there
here a NO, there a NO, everywhere, an UH-OH-NO
old mcferris has a farm
e i e i OH

and on that farm he has two cats
e i e i OH
with a bella here, and a lotus there
here a bella, there a LOTUS everywhere a BELL-AH, LOT-US
OLD MCFERRIS HAS A FARM E I E I OH
and on that farm he has a garden
e i e i OH
with a rosebush here, and lilacs there
here a plant, there a tree, everywhere a PEONY
old mcferris has a farm
E I E I OH.

and on that farm he hurt his knee
e i e i OH
with an oh fuck here, and an oh fuck there
here a fuck, there a fuck, everywhere an oh fuck.

here a pain, there a set, everywhere a percocet

old mcferris has a wife
e i e i oh
and on that farm the needs her love.
e i e i

OH

with a little kiss here, and a little tug there
here a kiss, there a snug ….everywhere a sexy hug…

old mcferris has a farm

HE I HE I
OH

YEAH.

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avatar demenopause

August 28th, 2012 — 1:46pm

We find her on the floor.
She is sleeping.
I am scared. She is snoring.
I bend down, “Ma. Ma. Wake up.”
“You’re so tall,” she says as she looks up at me. Her eyes are empty. Blank.
They have been empty, blank for some time now.
She had been diagnosed with moderate stage dementia. For those of you who no nothing about dementia, I tell you, it strips you bare, a destroyer of hope and faith and goodness. If you don’t believe much in God, dementia will certainly push you further away.
“Ma, you’re on the floor. How’d you get there?”
She tries desperately to arrange words so they make some sense, “I. Don’t. Remember.”

There were so many incidents, both large and small. The driving straight into a fire hydrant, the driving into the closed garage doors, the burning of bagels and toast, and the once fresh flowers left in a vase for so long the water evaporated and left a perfect mold-ring and the smell of mildew.

I tuck her in. Ken waits for me in the spare bedroom. I sleep with my mom. She smells old. Frail. Not like the mom I remember who wore Pleasures by Estee Lauder, or Final-net hairspray, which left her thin hair so stiff, and so unlike human hair. She smelled old, and frail. She too, had once been a fresh flower.

But what I remember – the memory that is vivid – is her peeing on the floor. Those other memories I can toss aside, fan away as if an annoying fly buzzing my head. But this moment, memory has stuck with me, and fills me to the point I often feel like my knees are buckling under me. She stood in the hallway. She had replaced her beloved perfume, Pleasures, with 3 to 4 days of not bathing, she had replaced her soft brown eyebrow pencil with a purple sharpie pen, and most of her white garments – sweaters, tee-shirts, blouses – had the forever stain of L’oreal beige #3 makeup on the collar. It was a hot day in New Mexico, where she was now living in an assisted living facility. She had turned up the thermometer to well over 90 degrees in her apartment. I was irritated, and impatient and lacked any generosity in that particular moment. I was in the throws of menopause, and if I tell you that 90 degrees felt like a thousand degrees, I would not be exaggerating. I told her that it was so hot in her apartment that I was getting a fucking sunburn just watching television. She yelled at me, saying angrily that she wasn’t hot. “I have a chill, I’m Goddamn freezing.” she screamed at me, and I proceeded to yell back at her, asking her how the fuck could she possibly have a chill when it was almost 100 degrees in her apartment.
“I don’t feel hot. If you make it colder, I’ll hate you. I’ll hate you. I will never talk to you again,” her voice shrieking.
“Fine, Mom, hate me” I said.
This, by the way, was not unchartered territory, the yelling and the screaming and the chorus of “I’ll never talk to you again and I hate you.” This was not new, or unexpected.

What came next was.

She peed on the floor.
In the hallway between her bedroom and the living room, the pee dripping down her leg soaking into the wall-to-wall carpeting.

She covered her mouth. Mortified. And then she said through a wave of unstoppable tears, “I have no control.”

Had she been much younger, and in therapy, this would be a moment of enlightenment. A revelation.

But this was not that kind of moment. It was terrifying and all and everything became crystal clear.

My mother – my feisty, angry, emotional, strong-willed, gorgeous, sexy mother – was no longer.

This is what I remember: her standing there drenched in her own urine, her fragile hands (hands that once sported perfectly manicured nails) covering her mouth, tears falling from her eyes (eyes that were once green and filled with passion), her body small and slight (a body that was once strong and stunning and oh so, sexy), and that all she had been was completely gone.

When I was a little girl, my greatest and biggest fear was that my mother would leave me and not come back. I think most little girls feel that way. Or maybe just most little girls I knew. That fear of losing your mom penetrates, permeates, and fills your soul until the moment she comes back and you can breathe.

This time my mother wasn’t coming back.
She was gone for good.

I clean up the pee, and I wash her housecoat, and I keep the heat in the apartment to where she felt comfortable – 94 degrees – and I sit with her on the couch and i sweat profusely, and we hold hands, and watch TV. And I close my eyes, and I silently pray to any and all the God’s throughout the universe – any and all that I can remember by name – and I ask that my mother ‘please, oh please, not remember what had just happened,’ because it would fill her with great humiliation and embarrassment and disgrace, and if one or more God’s can just grant me that wish, I promise that I will not forget, because by not forgetting, she could never really ever be gone.

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avatar it seems to be, mr. akin

August 21st, 2012 — 10:17am

“it seems to be, first of all, from what i understand from doctors, it’s really rare. if it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut down the whole thing down.”

for the record, statistically 1.3 women (over 18 years old) in the united states are forcibly raped each minute. yep. that’s a fact. 54% of sexual assaults are not reported to police, and about 97% of rapists will never – never – spend a day in jail. horrific. but the real clincher is that 78 rapes occur per hour, which translates into about 1871 a day, which translates into 683,000 (yes, six hundred and eighty three thousand) a year.

a year.

mr. akin, i want you to imagine one of your daughters or one of your granddaughters at the hands of a rapist. i want you to imagine the fear in her eyes, in her face. that deep profound fear. i want you to imagine her trying to push that person away, trying to keep him off of her. i want you to imagine him fighting her, holding her down, covering her mouth with one dirty creepy hand as the other dirty creepy hand rips her dress or pants or jeans. i want you to imagine her unable to scream. unable to utter a single word, i want you to imagine her being pinned down… into a corner, or on a cold slab of concrete, i want you to imagine her panties being ripped off of her, i want you to imagine her eyes…her eyes… her eyes – those beautiful blue or green or hazel or brown eyes that were often filled with love and life and joy – i want you to imagine her shutting them, keeping them closed so tightly to prevent herself from looking at, staring at, memorizing this person, this monster, this evil man, as he violates every single inch of her. i want you to imagine him violently taking her, forcing himself on her. repeatedly. over and over and over again. i want you to imagine him finishing her, his getting up, his zipping his fly, his wiping his dirty creep awful violent hands on her clothes, and then leaving her on that sidewalk, on that concrete, in a park, in a corner. alone. i want you to imagine her trying to stand up, her knees buckling, her heart pounding, her lips cracked from biting down on her lower lip, her eyes swollen, her vagina bleeding. i want you to imagine her coming home, her walking through the door, her face and body wearing the scent of mean and ugly and violent. i want you to imagine, mr. akin, your daughter telling you that a man brutalized her, violated her, raped her, took away her dignity and self worth. i want you to imagine mr. akin your daughter or granddaughter telling you that she was raped. violated. brutalized. dehumanized.

and then i want you to imagine your child telling you that she got pregnant through this horrific violent act, and that you mr akin question it’s legitimacy because, well, from what you understand, it’s really rare…if it’s a legitimate rape…the female body has ways to try to, well… shut the whole thing down.

i want you to tell her that.

again, mr. akin, i want you to really truly deeply imagine – use your imagination – her being pinned down, forced against her will, violated over and over again … what you call “that whole thing” … well, mr. akin…. that whole thing is called a horrific unwanted violent rape.

and i want you to now imagine all the shame, and guilt, and fear and self-loathing and self-hatred that is carried legitimately because of that horrific act.

try mr. akin, for god sake, try.

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