Some Thoughts on Strength (i.e. Not Afraid to Say I Am a Feminist)

Some Thoughts on Strength (i.e. Not Afraid to Say I Am a Feminist)

I am a humanist, and by default, that makes me a feminist.

I used to feel weird with that term…it seemed akin to saying, “I know the struggle, sisters!” when I really don’t.

But in ways…while I can’t say I know the struggle completely, I can at least sympathize.

Single Mom; Big Sister

My parents divorced when I was five years old. My father became a summer thing — someone I saw during summer break; someone who had little bearing on the man I became. The women in my life shaped the man I’d later become. I’m proud of the man I became, and I owe much of that to my mother and my sister.

My father resented that in ways. During summers, he tried turning me into the angry bigot he became, and when I would not abide, he blamed it on my mother — even though it was my own innate morals that prevented me from being swayed.

In that move — blaming my mother for me not becoming the son he wanted — it became clear to me that there were men in the world who would brand certain women Jezebels. If only my father could have seen the angry drunk I saw.

(For all my father’s faults, he was a very loving man with us — even when drunk…which was kind of all the time. It is not my intent to slam on those long gone who cannot defend themselves, but I also refuse to elevate the dead to some higher stature simply because they are gone. My dad and I had our share of arguments, and they all ended with him feeling shamed and me feeling bad that I scolded a man I believed I should have held in much higher regard.)

Life Was Not Perfect

My mom was not always there for us. Some would hold a grudge, but as I grew older and my mom became my friend, I got it. My mom was handed the shit end of the stick. My father paid $120 a month in child support for my sister and me and, if he didn’t feel like taking us for the weekend, my mom was left with the fallout. My mom was also flawed — most of us are when we are younger, so this is not a case of “Mom was better than Dad.” By their own admissions, they both — at times — professed that they should not have had children together. (This never bothered me, but it bothered my sister.)

My mom was a keypunch operator. By that, I mean she punched keys on cards that were inserted into rudimentary computers to run statistics for an insurance company. She busted her ass while my father was sometimes in between jobs and sometimes couldn’t pay the $120 a month he owed for my sister and me. My mom, to my knowledge, never gave him shit for that.

Da Bitchez!!!

My father, as much as he loved me, was a bigot and a misogynist. My mother was the bitch who left him; my step mother was a cunt who deserved to die when she left him. Everything was everybody’s fault but his own.

This was my male role model.

Even sadder, I know more than a handful of men who make my father seem like Jane Fonda.

I never understood branding a gender as harpies when I could look at the men throwing out that name and see all their faults. Even today, I know men who look at the rare exception of a woman screwing over a guy and saying that’s the way “all bitches be,” and getting mad at those of us who say, “Are you calling my wife and all the other women in my life ‘bitches?’”

When Friends Breed

When I was 20, a friend announced he got his girlfriend pregnant. It was a boy…and almost 25 years later, they are still together — with another boy and a girl…smart young men and a young women about to have their shot at ruling the world.

A very good friend has two daughters; my best friend has a daughter and wonders what the future has in store for her. I like to think that they will have the shot I have — maybe even more.

How can a man look at the women and girls in his life he cares for and not call himself a feminist?!

Feminism

I saw a quote by John Marcotte today:

John Marcotte quote: "Don't allow men who hate women to define feminism as women who hate men."

Check out http://www.womenyoushouldknow.net/feminist-man-know-john-marcotte-founder-heroic-girls/

I don’t get it: any man who has lived long enough has, at some point, met a woman who’s important to him. For me, early on, it was my mother and my sister. I’m not saying they are/were perfect (my sister died when I was 33 and she was 38), but they were vital to who I am. My wife and I have been together for more than 22 years — how could I not want the best for her?! I look at female friends and the daughters of friends — and to even think they are somehow less than male friends would make me a loser if I felt that way.

I do not feel the need to protect these women any more than I feel the need to protect any friend, but I see these women taking more shit than the men and guys I know.

And that’s why I don’t mind saying I am a feminist. It still feels a bit weird, I’ll admit. It’s a word that I feel I can’t lay claim to because…well, I pee standing up — and while I do not have the privilege of some white males, I’d be lying if I said I’ve lived a life without some privilege.

The Cockroach Effect

There are people in the world who seem very loud: tea party ranters, flat-earth embracers, and others of that ilk. But it’s a death rattle — the prattling of those who feel their easy ride to a snug and smug life is being denied.

They are being buried, lost in the wake of even young conservatives who see that their gay friends marrying is not the end of the world. They are loud because they’re living on borrowed time and being buried by progress.

Much like that, men who hate women fume. They say women who are raped are “lying bitches,” and they turn their 8th-grade views of women into a false realities and then scream that they are being oppressed more than any other group on the planet.

As long as tiny man-boys like that exist, I will have no problem saying, “Yes, I am a feminist!”

On Being Prepared

On Being Prepared

I like the Twitter account for Everyday Carry. My daily carry is very basic: clothing on body, glasses on face, wedding ring on finger. I suppose those are everyday wearings. What I actually carry is simple: my smart phone in my left front pocket. In my front right pocket, a keyring with my car key, apartment key, and mailbox key. In my back left pocket, my wallet (which is not filled with much).

One could say I prefer to travel travel light.

The Things We Carry

Looking at Everyday Carry, I see knives and lighters and string and other tools carried in pockets. When I was younger, I used to carry a knife, string, lighter…everything I could — as if I believed I would find myself suddenly lost in the wild and in need of these things. I carried every key I owned. If someone needed a metric screwdriver, I could summon one from a pocket!

Somewhere along the way, I realized that I rarely used the things I carried. It was more like this: why would I need to start a bonfire or tie up bad guys with twine when I was simply walking up the street to the bus stop?

Just in Case

Someone once asked me why I don’t own a gun. They assumed it was some deep political statement. My answer was simple: “I don’t feel a need to own a gun.”

Guns are fun to shoot, but I prefer archery to shooting guns. If I lived in a bad neighborhood, I very well might own a gun. But I live on the upper floor in a quiet apartment complex in a town with very little crime. I fear the weather more than I fear waking up to a criminal in the apartment — and I don’t fear the weather, even during spring in Texas.

When I explained this way of thinking about gun ownership, the person I talked to said, “Yeah, but just in case, wouldn’t you want that security?”

I look at it like this: I feel more secure without a gun in the apartment than this person feels with a gun in their home. This person, every night — on some level — thinks about a home invasion as they set their gun on their night stand. Me? I just go to sleep.

The Unseen Carry

I realized something about the need I once had to carry so many things, “Just in case.” With those physical objects, I carried a head full of strange what-ifs. I wasted energy thinking about unlikely situations in which I saved the day with a magnifying glass, bottle opener, and a plastic toothpick.

Once I stopped carrying so much, my head cleared. I realized there is a lot to be said for trusting my abilities to think differently if I needed to solve a problem that string, a knife, or wire clippers could solve. (That, and I stopped breaking fingernails by trying to open obscure tools on my Swiss Army Knife that were in there so tight!)

Be Prepared

Many people see the motto “Be prepared,” and feel that their preparation should come in the form of carrying things for those “Just in case” moments that will — most likely — never come. “Be prepared,” to me, means having confidence to trust yourself to find solutions to things as situations arise — not fretting and running every doomsday scenario through your head that — if they ever happened — would still not work out as planned. Being prepared means looking back on all the things I wasn’t sure I could do and remembering that I can’t think of a time things didn’t work out because I can adapt.

These days, I don’t carry much at all and, because of that, even unseen baggage falls to the side.

In a Hole in the Ground…

In a Hole in the Ground…

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.

I will not praise The Hobbit as a perfect work. Even as a kid, each year I read it in 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade, I saw the book’s faults. I always thought Thorin or Bilbo should have taken out Smaug — not some human who just appears and saves the day. I won’t go on about the decline of the book from that point on…it was something I saw even as a child.

But that opening and the world it created in my mind…

No other book — not even Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine — put a world into my head like The Hobbit.

That opening, and the mention of comfort…

The Meaning of Comfort

There is a lot to be said about comfort, just as there is a lot to be said about stepping out far and wide and seeing the world beyond our Shires. There is even more, perhaps, to be said about returning home a very changed person.

As a child, The Hobbit was a book about adventure — a book that showed me how I could escape and see places of legend made real inside my head. As an adult, I see that one could argue that it’s a book about life.

I am happy that my life is comfortable…that I have business to attend to and friends to see. That I have words to write, and someone with whom I can share all these things (and more).

But in other ways, I am even happier to know that should I ever become complacent in my comfort, that there is so much out beyond my own Shire…and that I now have the confidence to face more than I ever imagined, all because of a little book released today in 1937.

Cover to The Hobbit

Why I Write Blog Entries that Barely Anyone Reads

Why I Write Blog Entries that Barely Anyone Reads

While reading this, it hit me — at least in part — why I write blog entries that barely anybody reads.

First: the few people who read what I write generally like what I write, and I enjoy seeing what they are up to. (Most people who read this blog are people I know in person and online.)

Second: even if nobody read these words, I’d still write entries. Blog entries are different than handwritten journal entries I keep. In a journal, there’s no audience…or feeling that I’m writing for an audience. With a blog, even if no one reads, there’s a certain focus required because, in the back of my mind, I think about others reading what I’m writing.

It all got me thinking last night…

The News Effect

Somewhere in my teen years, before people chatted online, commentary was usually found in the op-ed section of newspapers. I remember hearing my step father all but regurgitate points made in the Chicago Sun Times, to relatives and family friends, as though the points were his own. In ways, I suppose they were — at least points he agreed with and carried as his own. Later, when cable came around, I remember hearing my father sharing commentary he heard on television as though he came up with the thoughts himself.

As 24-hour news stations became a thing, I heard more people presenting things they agreed with, that somebody else said, as their own thoughts.

With the rise of websites and social media, I heard it even more: people using something they heard elsewhere as their own talking points. We now know politicians and 24-hour news stations push talking points to their audiences in the hope the people watching and reading and listening present the points as their own. (FoxNews mastered this, but they are not alone in doing it.)

Why I Write Blog Entries that Barely Anyone Reads

I write blog entries to see where I stand on things. I write blog entries to take a point I find interesting and push it this way and that, to see how it holds up to scrutiny.

I write these entries as practice, to keep my mind ready to stand on its own, and to have the confidence that when I open my mouth to speak, there will be at least some structure in what I’m saying.

I write these blog entries to get things out there so I don’t feel the need to always be the one speaking, because in writing, I’ve already had my say.

In a weird way, I write these entries because I find that once I’ve had my say, I don’t mind just sitting back and listening to others, instead of always feeling the need to chime in and be heard.

Someone New (All the Time)

Someone New (All the Time)

I’ve seen the advice quite a bit:

Eat with someone new every week.

The reason: networking — to talk about what you are up to in the hope someone can help you. The theory goes, if you eat with a new person every week, you’ll eventually have a large network and maybe even — through sheer numbers — stumble upon someone who can help you in what you do (or want to do).

Rarely, it seems, do those dispensing the advice talk about what you could do for others; it seems to be “Quantity over quality until you get what you want.”

I’m not saying it’s bad advice, but it seems so shallow.

Lacking Depth

While the idea of 52 lunches with 52 different people in a year appeals to the side of myself that likes to be challenged, if my goal is to have in-depth talks about writing, podcasting, life, or other things…it doesn’t seem like a new person every week is the way to go. In a hurried world, it seems like those lunches would consist of catching up with each other — not enough time for much more than, “This is how I am, this is how my family is, and this is what I’m up to.”

Just an exchange of information that can probably be found on any person’s social media site.

Quality Over Quantity

Last Wednesday, I had dinner with a good friend. Not somebody new…somebody who knows my writing, at times, better than I do. Someone who knows what I’m trying to do with all the things I work on.

We don’t meet weekly, or even every other week, but when we get together and talk about what we’re doing, it beats sharing a meal with someone new all the time. Hell, sometimes we don’t even talk about writing and things like that — it’s not about networking; it’s about friendship.

It’s not about quantity; it’s about quality!

The Thing About Shortcuts

I’ve seen people network with their own needs put forward and seen people get what they want from that move. The staying power, though, is often weak.

It’s always seemed that someone wanting a shortcut to whatever it is they want desires the result without the effort to secure that result. At some point, the work must be done, and those looking for the easy way in often can’t sustain things once they get there because they don’t like the work. So they constantly hit up everyone they know in the hope they can sustain a life through shallow relationships.

I’m fortunate to know people who make a living doing so many cool things, and those who have sustained their dreams are those who surround themselves with a handful of good friends who really understand them — not 52 people, most of whom are acquaintances — in the hope of a quick payoff through networking.

Another Social Media Break

Another Social Media Break

It’s that time of the year: time for my annual electronic equivalent of retreating to a cabin in the woods by taking a social media break. I’m not sure if it will be a break from all social sites, or just Facebook, but this afternoon I said, “Time for the annual Facebook break!” I logged out and removed the app from my phone.

I’m not sure about other social sites right now because I can filter Twitter to see only what I want to see. (I do that on Facebook, but Facebook insists on still showing me things I’ve requested be hidden). Google+ and Tumblr are free of drama, politics, and stress for me — places I can visit and leave refreshed. So we’ll see about those other sites as the week moves along.

The Problem with Facebook

I don’t know why it just seems to be Facebook for me, but it seems there’s usually a topic of the week that gets discussed — and it’s often discussed with a certain angst.

  • One week, talk about how depression kills. Then: “Robin Williams was a coward!” [Battles ensue.]
  • Another week, people doing the ice bucket challenge. Then: “This is why you are a dummy-head for doing the ice bucket challenge!” [Battles ensue.]
  • This week, people talking about a bunch of nude photos of female celebrities leaked online and shared. Then: “If they didn’t want the photos out there, they shouldn’t have taken them!” [Battles ensue.]

I know these same arguments are happening on Twitter, Tumblr, and Google Plus, but I only follow publishers, photographers, artists, and other people who tend to talk about positive things and creating work they love.

So I can’t say it’s Facebook’s problem exclusively. But I can say it’s the only network that keeps presenting things in my feed I’ve requested to not see.

“Are You Crazy?”

Most people I know understand why I take these annual breaks, but there are always a few who can’t fathom giving up the social sites they frequent. Those who use social sites to promote their work, and who know I do the same thing, usually ask:

“But doesn’t that affect your numbers?!”

I’m not a huge fan of tracking things; if you know me, you know I just like making the things I like and if people look, read, or listen — great. If not, it’s not the end of the world. For me, the most satisfying part is in the creation. This isn’t to say I don’t like having a following…especially as that following keeps growing.

When I take a break from one or all social sites and don’t say, “New podcast!” “New story,” or “New video,” it’s reflected in fewer downloads. I’m not there to remind people to check out whatever new thing I’ve created, so fewer people check out what I’m doing. When I think back to every year I’ve taken a break, all the way back to the 101-day break that kicked it all off (and what I learned in taking that break), there is an initial fear of losing the following I have. It’s not long, though, before I remember the sense of peace that comes from stepping away.

Fear of Missing Out

Fear of missing out is enough of a thing that we’ve turned FOMO into a buzzword. With each break I’ve taken, someone has asked me if it bothers me that I miss out on what’s going on — as though nothing happens outside of social media.

Even during the breaks from all social sites, I still read and replied to blogs. I still saw people. There was email. Those closest to me knew how to get in touch if there’s an emergency (or if they just wanted to hang out or say hello). So what do I really miss, outside of the rage of the day or week?

[It didn't even hit me until just now that there is a midterm election coming up, which means all the people who rarely/never spoke with me in high school (but requested to be friends on Facebook because, I assume, they think I share in their view that our current president is a Muslim lizard man who will impose Sharia law on us before 2016), will be out in full force soon. I won't mind missing that!]

I may miss out on some good news along the way, some funny memes, and other things, but what is gained from these breaks is something that makes me a better writer.

Writing is What It’s Really All About…

For me, Jonathan Franzen’s words about electronic distractions holds weight:

It’s doubtful that anyone with an Internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.

I write best when I disconnect from distractions. I also write more when I disconnect from distractions.

I started the novel I’m working on almost three years ago. With a life, day job, weekly podcast, other writing, and additional things I do, my goal for a solid draft of a new book is every three years. I’m on pace to make my self-imposed deadline if I disconnect and focus.

So that’s what I’m going to do…