The Trials of Tramadol

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One a week. One middle age woman dies from an opioid overdose every week in Orange County, CA. How many more suffer, losing themselves and all they have worked and hoped for? How far does the pain radiate? Children? Spouses?

And how close is this to you? To me?

One year ago I was diagnosed with a fuzzy autoimmune disorder, meaning the first person I told about the diagnosis said “you know that’s not a thing, right?” Yes, I know it’s a catch all for things that don’t fit in the other boxes. But the reality was that I was in a lot of pain, a lot of the time. It made me nasty mean and tired; my sleep was all topsy turvy.

Somehow the nearest big clinic and my insurance aligned to bring me a great rheumatologist who listened and offered to run interference with my family if needed (it wasn’t) and encouraged me to at least have pain killers and try them to see if it helped.

I filled the prescription, but didn’t take any pills for months. I watch my local paper with articles about people who hurt their back or have a surgery and two years later they are in full-on heroin addiction. I know I’m not good at moderation. I didn’t want to start because I wasn’t sure where I would end.

But the pain continued and one day, before I was going on a trip, with the thought of being stuck in an airplane seat with no way to move and relieve the pain scaring me silly, my husband suggested we just try it. I take one and see if it helped.

We sat watching TV and as the words “there’s no difference” were coming out of my mouth, I could feel the pain lessen. It was like a cloud of relief covered my body.  That was better, WAY better.

I brought the bottle of pills with me, but didn’t take any on that trip. I was still scared of them. Once every few weeks or so I would take one, and they worked. But it never felt safe.

I pulled down the bottle the other day, it was a bad flare day. My fault, I taunted the karma fairy by saying “Gosh, I haven’t had much pain at all lately.” That’ll teach me. But here’s the thing; I’m lucky, I was done with my work day, I don’t have little kids.  I could just take a few hours. A break. Rest. Distract myself from the pain watching “Catastrophe” on Amazon Video. Drink tea. Wrap up in a blanket. I was not dealing with post surgery pain. Mine is more of a feeling of having rough sand in my joints.

But given what I have learned about being a middle aged woman, and being deemed “unnecessary” by our society, I get why people take these things without meaning to get in trouble but wind up lost. I get how the cloud of relief can be so, so seductive. Who cares if we’re out of commission? No one wants to hire a middle aged woman or advance us or move to the side a little as we walk down the damn sidewalk.

It’s painful to realize that the majority of people around us see us as just not worth an investment of time or money.

Expendable.

A little relief can feel, well, like a relief.

I am lucky that my doctor framed this thing, whatever it is that’s not a real thing but is, as a spectrum. She suggested all kinds of lifestyle modifications that have helped. I am back in yoga, and but for this little setback I am almost ready for the level one classes again, after a long ramp up time of restorative and gentle classes. Until this week, I was using one of those apps to do a slow lady jog that I call RUNNING on my treadmill and while I had one spectacular cartoon like spill I am getting better. I’ll have to work my way back up, but I will. I eat differently and value sleep like a secret health tonic.

Life is good. Mostly.

But I can feel, just on the other side of good, how very dark and bad it could be for me, and how very easy it is to get there for my neighbors.

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Women of a Certain Age: Five Ways

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I am two minutes from turning 50, maybe three. I pictured my post-kid world as full of opportunity and new horizons, but here’s the truth: that’s not the way the system works.

It’s rigged.

Women, especially middle aged women, are still clawing our way out of the valley of misogyny and trying to pave over the patriarchy.

I’m gonna fill you in on five ways that this tired old system is keeping the good woman down:

  1. The Glass Escalator: Men, especially young men, especially young WHITE men ride the glass escalator to top positions, both paid and unpaid, bypassing women with advanced degrees and decades of relevant experience. Some of us stand two floors down pounding on that glass ceiling only kind of hoping that the whole thing shatters. Kind of.
  2. Silenced: We speak and people look straight through us. I have even swiveled my head all the way around to see what someone is looking at behind me. But no, just straight through. Our opinions are viewed as worthless.
  3. Lumped: OK, I know that some middle aged/older women get opinionated and preachy. But I once saw a young professional post on social media something about being done with all middle aged white women on Twitter, forever. When you name a group and lump us all together, you might be missing some awesome, wise stuff. Or at least some awesome wiseass stuff.
  4. Workhorses: Middle aged women run most churches, political organizations, nonprofits and schools. Yes, sometimes because we can’t get through the damn gatekeeping in other places with higher stature (and PAY!) but also because we know how to get things done and those are the places that NEED us. Shut us out or shut us up and you’re hurting the orgs that need the most love.
  5. OTHER Women: No need to tell a woman “of a certain age” that sometimes the worst enemy is another woman. Threatened? Jealous? Power trip? Marginalized? Whatever the reason, when I see a woman in power turn on me, I know to either run or roll over. There is no good way out. They know the soft spots to aim for and they are lethal.

Change the system? Nah. I’m old enough to know it’s not gonna happen. At least not in time for me. And knowing this is the way it is helps, a little. It’s not just me. There’s a fix on. The biggest proof was the 2016 US election.

Me? I’m staying to the safe zones and hanging with the other crones, making coffee at church, and calling my congresspeople. You know. Doing what we’ve always done. Taking care of the things that need doing and having fun poking at everyone else while we do, and yeah, sometimes all over Twitter! Ha.

Fighting About the Bleeding

I admit it. Black Lives Matter was a hard sell for me. The lives I love the most in this world are the lives of my kids and my husband. Those are Asian lives. Watching pop culture racist jokes hurled by Black celebrities at Asian people just made me angrier. Chris Rock can go suck an egg.  Faith (1).png

“Why the hell do you get to go first?”

I am also a long time unofficial “keeper of the secrets” for my profession. I have heard years of story after story about powerful ministers who use their status in a gender and power bias dogfight against the religious educators over whom they hold authority: they call in a woman for a meeting and then slide her “pre-written” letter of resignation across the table with a warning to sign or they will ruin her good name; they threaten that a job might “be in jeopardy” if a particular social justice program is enacted; or they just go ahead and order all the supplies for the latest curriculum trend, even though the religious educator has clearly said it’s not the best course for their program, because they are the boss. I have heard from these people who call with tears in their eyes and sometimes a drink in their hand: “What can I do? I have to submit to my minister, I need this job.”

Sexism. Misogyny. Patriarchy. And it’s BAD.

But, I think I get the why behind Black Lives Matter and the need to focus here first, why sometimes we have to focus on a central issue. I get it.

It’s freakin’ triage. It’s the core of it all.

Say you are drinking coffee at your local coffee shop and a bus plows into the building across the street. You run across the street into the carnage of fellow humans who are shaped in unholy angles and bleeding bright red blood. Do you say “well, now, all of these lives matter and so I’m going to serve each equally in turn.”

No. Nope. You don’t. You assess who is in the greatest need. That’s who you help first. Those in the greatest danger of death.  You fix the most broken things first. Not that you ignore the other folks, no, you do that too. But priorities, please.

So we focus on #BlackLivesMatter not to the exclusion of other things. We learn about the way we are ALL taught, not just White people, to center whiteness. It’s insidious. We focus on the voices of people who are not the most privileged. Not choosing the one voice that agrees with us over the chorus of voices that don’t, but listening, listening, listening. We try to have compassion for those who feel newly oppressed because losing the center of focus can feel like oppression, but you know what? If they don’t learn to see what’s up, then they gotta go somewhere else. Move on.

We remind ourselves of what my former colleague, Lena Gardner, writes: “…fixing the centrality of white supremacy specifically against Black folks will help lift all boats and is deeply interwoven with other forms of oppression.”

We know that we’ve got to start here. Yes, my Asian family members face discrimination and oppression. Yes, my beloved colleagues face discrimination and oppression. No one is saying this isn’t part of the story.

It is.

But there is work to be done, and we need to stop standing on the sidewalk, arms crossed in anger, fighting about who is bleeding. Time to get in and fight for justice or…get the hell out.

#BoycottUnitedAirlines

I get it. We were an airline family for 20 years; one or both of us working for an airline and flying all over on standby. Safety means that we need clear lines of authority on a plane. But…

If you can’t buy people off at $700 or $800 then you go to $1000 and you keep going until you reach market price.

Don’t assault your passengers.

And you tell me that’s the same thing the damn cop would have done to a White guy.

There is no way in hell. 

I flew United two days ago. Their frequent flyer system will not match my TSA precheck number no matter what I do so I couldn’t use my precheck. 

When I tried to get it fixed I think the ticket agent deliberately changed my aisle seat to a middle seat further back on the plane to punish me for complaining. And then the gate agent would not change it back. The seat I should have had was given to a United employee.

I am glad that United has pissed off their customers in China. They don’t deserve any second chances. They deserve to go the hell out of business.

I’m done. 

Never, Ever, Ever, Ever, Never Read the Comments

I read the comments. I know I’m not supposed to. I know that proper mental health hygiene calls for never reading the comments. I think this advice applies to not only press articles online but also on the “stand up and have your say” commentary that people post these days on social media.

Because of my job and well, life, I have a lot of ministers who are friends on Facebook. There have been a LOT of “stand up” posts lately. My gosh. I almost have to set a filter for “preach” or something. No offense, some of them are really good. But my gosh, it can get exhausting!

Today I followed one of the comment threads. It was about using the term “white supremacy” and it went round and round with different people from many different walks of life. I read some of it outloud to my husband, who is, so it happens NOT white.

“So, why don’t people just use a different phrase if this is too much. I mean, move on.”

This brings me to the point where, as a White person trying to follow the lead of people of color want to throw things.

What?

I know I know, it’s not simple, easy or straight forward. And here’s the thing. There are many paths forward.

I, myself, believe that using the term “white supremacy” to mean something other than lynchings and the clan allows us to not just talk about THOSE people. It allows me to really examine the ways that I am complicit in holding up the systems oppression as part of the continuum of behavior. And if we are going to work to dismantle these systems the most important place to start is here, in my own being.

I hear the argument that the folks doing the most harm and the most damage are those on the side of overt white supremacy. And we should come together to fight them.

But I am not so sure. I mean, I can see those people wearing hats and carrying flags, making their beliefs known. Yes, they are dangerous, but they are not hidden. The 2nd Reich flags and hate speech at a recent “Make America Great Again” rally right here in my sunny beach town were a pretty clear sign that some evil people were there. Are here.

But what about my congressman, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, who says he “loves Mexicans” and it’s ridiculous to say he’s racist. And yet, he was willing to speak standing right in front of people holding an anti-semitic sign. 

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Are those of us refusing to examine our own beliefs not part of the problem? Because that’s what I see in the comment threads when people don’t want to use the term “white supremacy.” They want to fight the bad guys. They want to fight the racists. They want to do the right thing, and make the world a better place by working against the racists. The racist people over there.

Those people.

When the really hard work begins right here, within us.

Within me.

Triangle of Death

OK, there’s not a triangle of death. But I do have this cool graphic about white supremacy to share. And I have NO idea where it comes from. I have done a reverse image search and looked through hundreds of places where it COULD have originated. I give up. Its’s Friday. I want a glass of wine and some time to fold my monument to the laundry gods before they get angry. And make more laundry.

How do two empty nesters have SO MUCH LAUNDRY? I digress…..

So if you know the source, PLEASE share. There are a bunch of ministers totally psyched to use it in worship on Sunday!

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Oh but one little update. I shared this image and a few heartfelt emails with my hate mailer today, too. I think it helped. A little anyway. She is very earnest. And trying so hard to do the right thing. I have been there. I understand.

I was going to tell the story, today, of the time that I, too, almost lost my faith during a personal tumult around race. Just like my hate mailer. But the wine and the laundry gods call.

So, interwebs community. Where does this awesome graphic come from? It is blog death to publish an image to which you do not have rights! Triangle of death!

Or should I just MAKE A NEW ONE? I could make a new one. Maybe I’ll make a new one. Like, tomorrow.

But if you know, comment! Or FB me. I would love to fairly cite the creator of this fabulous image.

Now, look out world. It’s Frankie and Grace and me and the laundry! Happy Friday!

Oh, no. Hate Mail.

Happy Mother’s Day, mom! (2).pngI got my first hate mail today. It’s 2017 so it was hate email. And it was really only a little hate-y.

It’s not bothering me. I have been taught that the discomfort that I feel as a White person when I am confronted with the hard truth about the prizes and kickbacks I get in this world for having the heritage of a well-traveled Viking ancestor is nothing compared with the discomfort of having the very worth and dignity of your being assaulted on a regular basis when you are a person of color in this world.

That is to say, I have learned that the feeling of needing to defend myself around race is a sign that I need to stop and pay attention to which internal biases are running in the background like a slew of cookies from a clickbait site.

I’m not sure this person has learned that the defensive feeling = pay attention yet. That’s OK. We all gotta get in when we can. If we don’t start speaking out until we are fully “woke” there is no hope of fixing white supremacy.

We have to start where we are. All of us. Each one of us.

This email came to me at my work address. The organization I serve recently backed a Teach In about white supremacy. Well, this woman was not happy at all with me about that choice of phrase: white supremacy. She found it to be angry and not showing interest in dialogue.

Damn right.

This is not about a dialogue where one side talks and then the other side talks. This is a calling in of White folks. We are letting this happen, this continuing practice that all Whiteness is standard and anything else is inferior, abnormal, aberrant. We white folks need to stop it. We don’t need dialogue. We need action. Action! Like a teach in.

I didn’t tell her that.

I’m just a lackey, anyway. I serve a board who makes decisions. I don’t even get a vote on what goes out. (I DO get to actually send the emails/tweets/fb posts and stick things all over the website though….)

What I did tell her was that while I am just staff, I wholeheartedly endorse their decision to support this white supremacy teach in. And then I told her that I had looked her up on Facebook, and we had a mutual friend, so I told her I was going to invite her to be my Facebook friend and I hoped that she would keep an open heart and join with me in a dialogue about this important issue.

Because I’m not “woke” I’m not even out of REM sleep, I think. But I’d like to talk with my hate-mailer about this: that it’s OK to be ANGRY about how the culture of your world devalues you as a human, it’s OK to work against that, that it’s OK to use words and phrases that make the people who hold the power uncomfortable and while I would like to tell her that sometimes dialogue isn’t the right answer, but listening is, that’s maybe too much to lead with.

I hope she accepts my invitation to be friends. We all have a lot to learn. Me, too. Probably you, too–although maybe not about this. Maybe about macrame. Or the literature of Scandinavia.

Whatever.

May we learn and grow and get better at this being human thing. May it be so.

 

 

Whitewashing

I got two pieces of news today that would seem unrelated but they’re not.

  1. My youngest son was not cast in the big show for spring quarter.
  2. “Ghost in the Shell” appears to be a box office flop.

Related? What?

One word. Whitewashing.

Whitewashing is a casting practice in which White actors are cast in roles intended for a person of color.

My son has played all kinds of roles that were in my mind (like with my always present white supremacy lens, AKA the understanding of white as “normal”) intended to be white: Sky Masterson, Curly McLain, Romeo, Mortimer the Zombie?, Robbie Hart, Horton?, Linus, Fredric, Judas, The Big Bad Wolf–both the Shrek version and the Into the Woods version, Prince Charming and Jack the Englishman. OK, I’m not absolutely sure about zombies, bad wolves or elephants…. He’s also played one role as a mixed Asian-White young man from California (BINGO!) but beyond that, all of his roles have been cast the by colorblind casting and likely assumed to be white.

He was pretty sure he was not going to get cast in this coming play. I brushed it off, he always gets at least offered a role. When he got a call-back I figured that they would cast him and figure it out. But no, and it is a really good thing.

The pay is Clybourne Park, a play about gentrification and what happens between a Black community and a White community. It would harm the story to cast a Hapa person in either a role written for a Black person or a role written for a White person, because their race is integral to the characters. I get it. He’s right. They’re right. I just always want my kid to be the lead, and no I am not biased, I am his mother. He is the most talented young person on the planet. Whatever. But this one I get.

Ghost in the Shell“, from what I understand as a bystander and non-consumer of Manga is a movie based on a book in which a main character has her features changed to appear more white, in Germany, or something. In the film the character instead of being played by a light skinned Asian person was played by Scarlett Johannsson.

This wasn’t a case of yellow face, like Mickey Rooney, Katherine Hepburn or a whole bunch of other Hollywood shameful moments. (This is actually a pretty good run down of shameful moments for Hollywood regarding Asian Americans by Vox) It was a way for Hollywood to say that Asian actors can’t possibly be what the paying public wants to see.

They were wrong. Flop.

I hope that the entertainment industry has learned their lesson. We want to see people who look like us. We want to see real characters and real humans come in more than just White.

Good timing, too, since my son will be out of college and looking for dynamic roles in which he can embody his whole heritage in like three minutes.

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Doing it Wrong

Bridge (1).pngSo how do I, a White person, work on fighting white supremacy without, you know, trying to smear my white privilege all over and muck it up?

I get a little frozen here, sometimes. OK, all the time.

Because I don’t want to do it wrong. I don’t want to do something to make more trouble, more whiteness centered over the need to stop centering whiteness.

The recent Huffington Post piece about the invasion of racial justice spaces by White people hits right at the core of this fear. This is what I don’t want to do, can’t imagine how not to do, am frozen in fear about. I don’t expect to turn to leaders who are people of color to hold my hand or tell me what to do, but I don’t want to look to people like me, either.

I am certain that I am getting this wrong, but I will keep trying until maybe I learn how to get it less wrong. For now I am working the hardest on myself in my own white space in my head and my heart.

Then, when I feel OK there for a minute, I am trying to stay low the ground, crouching along and not being led by my ego or my privilege and working on stepping beyond myself, to be what I think we need in our greater culture: a person who behaves in public discourse like a fair minded anti-racist, anti-white supremacist person.

My husband tells me that sometimes I’m a bridge. I know a little about how things are on both shores, and I can move ideas from one side to the other. Maybe he’s right.

I know that I understand Whiteness better from Robin DiAngelo than from places that just take me hard and fast to shame where I find myself just wanting to jump off a bridge instead of trying again to learn and grow and do better. I know that I am supposed to work toward feeling worse and not being able to sleep at night and that’s how I’ll know I’m not occupying racial justice spaces. But I am the kind of person who gains 10 pounds when I put a “motivational” picture on the fridge. Guilt and shame make me depressed and I don’t mean sad. I mean depressed. Big D.

I don’t want to pat myself on the back for being a “woke” White person. I’m not “woke.” I’m not even kind of woke.

I want to move toward being a whole and authentic person who works for the world to be a place where that’s possible for all of us, to be whole and authentic, and able to be who we are and maybe be respected for just that.

Not because it feeds my ego, although maybe that is what drives me, but I think I work for this because it’s the most basic human right of all; to have the right to be our true selves.

 

 

 

So, tell me about your hair?

I was a late bloomer, as in I think I bloomed underground and then had to fight my goofy, wrecked up daisy head out of the dirt to see the sun. I didn’t finish my BA until one day before my oldest son graduated with an engineering degree. It meant a cobbling together of credits from all over with a final push that included some all-day, one credit seminars.

I learned about prisons from the Psych department, I think I took two of those, actually. Super interesting. And then there was a seminar that I will never forget, although I can’t say I even remember the topic. The professor for the day was a White man with long blonde hair and he wore sandals, although it was still a pretty brisk spring in the Pacific Northwest. With socks is OK, but this guy had bare feet.

He pushed his stringy hair off of his face so frequently I actually looked for a ponytail holder in my purse. He lectured and lectured and lectured. But then he turned a chair backwards and sat facing the class. That’s when we knew things were gonna get real.

I don’t remember the exact breakdown of the class. There were a lot of White people, more women than men, a few Asian folks and maybe a few mixed race people. And there were two women who were Black.

Professor greasy hair straddled that chair and looked at us through his hair.

“Because, you know, being a person of color has roadblocks that I never thought of until my students, you know, woke me up.” Fingers through hair, nodding his head so it all just falls in his face again.

“Like ladies, I hope you don’t mind me calling on you here, but your hair! I mean, it’s a whole process, right?”

One of the women raised her eyebrows in shock. The other one played along. “Yeah, you know, it’s just not a big deal.” He went on. They talked a little about, you know, hair.

I mean, our grade was held by this guy. I get it. I didn’t say anything, either. Dumbstruck, or maybe just dumb.

It gets kind of hazy after that, my memory. But I know we ended the day writing an essay about our experience. It must have been some kind of multi-cultural communications seminar, because the intent was to process all of these “new” things we had encountered.

I gave up caring about my grade. I felt guilt for not speaking up in the moment.

My husband jokes about people asking Asians if they can see when they smile. And when I say jokes, I mean he calls them names I won’t repeat here, because that is a stupid thing to ask an Asian person. I understand people touch the hair of people who are Black like it’s a thing you can do. No. It’s not. That is not a thing you can do.

I should have stopped that professor like I stopped children who asked my kids about their Kung Fu dad. Just like you slap a mosquito, without thinking, as a natural reaction. Bam.

So for my final project I wrote about how inappropriate it was for that man to ask two Black women anything in anyway that expected them to speak about their personal business or to speak for all Black women. We White folks have to stop assuming that asking our classmates, co-workers, fellow humans to speak for an entire group is OK.

It’s tricky, I know. White folks get reminded to center the voices of people of color. But that does not mean inviting a person to speak for all people of color, or to “check” you to see if you’re getting some social justice thing “right.”

What this means, fellow White folks, is paying attention when you choose a spokesperson, a leader, the next candidate for something. Not as a token, but with an awareness that you and I have been trained to view White as “normal”, which by default means White as better. Fight that by interrupting it.

Remember that white supremacy isn’t just people in hoods. It’s me, and it might be you, not learning about the systems that we support which oppress our fellow humans; it’s not stopping the greasy haired professors when they say inappropriate things. It’s work and it’s not easy. And we make mistakes all the time. And we keep learning and getting better. We have to.

And you know what? The next time someone turns a chair around and sits down to have an earnest talk with me, I’m outta there.

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