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Hands Off!

Sexual harassment happens to women in the workplace with such regularity it’s frightening. It’s common, inappropriate, and alarming that it’s so often overlooked and accepted. When I worked at a family owned restaurant, owned by creepy brothers, I was regularly subjected to comments about my body, outfits, and given unwanted shoulder “massages” on occasion. Every time I walked into the kitchen to retrieve a take-out order, (I was a hostess), the cooks liked to tell each other what they’d do to me if they had the chance. One time the owner of the restaurant came up behind me, rubbed my shoulders, and told me “you should wear your hair down, it’s pretty and looks better like that.”  Strange, I thought, since this is a restaurant, so you’d think wearing my hair up would be more sanitary and keep it away from the food, you creepy bastard. I remember smiling and saying, “It’s easier for me to keep it like this, thanks.” By the way, I was in high school and 17 years old at the time.

At one job I had, where our office was comprised mostly of women, we hired a male, and another male, someone in a position of power, rode in an elevator with me and said, “It will be nice to have a little male influence in the office, won’t it, now?”, winked, and then grazed what I thought was maybe the small of my back, but really was more like my ass. I remember thinking, “He must have just meant to touch my back, but maybe his hand slipped…right!?” Because surely he doesn’t think that’s okay…RIGHT!? We were in an elevator though, so nobody saw anything. Well played, dude.

At another job a wildly inappropriate comment was made about my body, and I guess me being in another office RIGHT NEXT to where it was said made it okay, and I mean, nobody actually touched me that time, so….”YOU KNOW I CAN FUCKING HEAR YOU RIGHT?” It almost always happens by men who are in powerful positions, to women who are not, but all the recent news from Hollywood shows no woman is off-limits.

This happens to women EVERY.DAY. These are minor examples of a culture where this is normal, acceptable, more common than not; it’s actually surprising to be in an environment where this doesn’t happen. The Harvey Weinstein allegations are terrifying. Kudos to those brave women who spoke out to share their stories.

NO. This is not okay. It’s NOT okay that this has become an accepted cultural norm. Don’t use your position of power to play grab-ass. Don’t prey on who you feel is the inferior sex. Women are bad-ass, they push humans out of their OWN BODIES. We’re brave. We’re tough. And we’ll call you out on that bullshit.  Do yourself a favor- men who might think this is acceptable- watch this PSA and keep your fucking hands (and your dirty thoughts) to yourselves. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BeWpX-ypSls

 

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Scoop Up This…

Delta might be my least favorite airline. My experiences flying with Delta include them losing my luggage in frigid North Dakota, sitting on the runway for several hours in Minneapolis on a hot day with no A/C or water for anyone- including young children- sitting on the runway for several hours while they figured out how to de-ice the plane, (to their credit, not entirely their fault), and a series of other incidents that often stranded me in the Atlanta airport for most of the day, taking deep breaths and trying not to push anyone.

They have a stronghold in the South though, and most likely some strong ties to both Coca-Cola and Jesus, as most conglomerates in the South do. I traveled a lot for work when I lived there, and discovered a small, regional airport in Brunswick, GA that became one of my favorite places. The airport has one runway in use, gate attendants greet you by name, parking was free…(that’s right…FREE, I once left my car there for almost two weeks and it cost $0 dollars), you could show up about 40 minutes before your flight, and on your return trip, be in your car and on your way 20 minutes after landing.  The only drawback was, of course, Delta being the only airline that operated there. So, for the convenience and ease of using that airport when someone inevitably decided at the last minute to send me somewhere amazing, like Michigan in the middle of February or Nebraska, I gave Delta the benefit of the doubt. Eventually I got a Delta Sky Miles reward credit card because I traveled often, and I did end up accruing some decent airline credit and earned a few free trips.

Of course, this did come with some headaches, like at least a 50% chance that Delta would majorly screw up and ruin most of the trip. A few trips I came near cancelling, as they were short, and after 7-8 hour delays, I realized I’d be cutting it close, and it might not be worth it. I learned to plan around the “fuck up factor,” and most times made it where I needed to be…eventually. I’m not sure if it’s airlines in general, or Delta’s Southern roots, but while they were usually polite, nobody ever seemed OVERLY concerned that kids were screaming and hungry, people had been waiting for 8 hours, or that you now didn’t have any clothes to wear. Sometimes, in extreme circumstances, they’d throw $50 at the problem and hope it would go away. What with the Coca-Cola and Jesus ties and all, I’m sure they don’t have much to worry about.

If you don’t live near a Delta hub or fly them frequently, the Sky Miles card really makes no sense and provides limited benefits, which makes sense, really. I held on to my credit card for some foolish reason, thinking somehow if I used it surely I’d earn some miles and get back that part of my life that Delta owes me.  But, no matter the balance, if you’re not flying Delta regularly, at any given time, you’ll have about $50 in airline credit. Whether you charge a tomato or buy a new car, the reward stays about the same.

Today Delta sent me an email urging me to “Scoop up this,” and offering me a free ice cream. I laughed out loud, “Scoop up THIS, Delta,” I said to myself. I texted my friend Robert, who flies them frequently, “Look, Delta’s giving away FREE ICE CREAM!” Like most people, he said, “I mean, I like ice cream!” “F that, I want two months of my life back and a trip to Tahiti, DELTA,” I exclaimed. “I see your point,” Robert said.

“Delta sucks,” I replied. “Also, what flavor should I get?”

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Dance it Out

I consider myself a moderate hippy, on a “hippy scale” of 1-10, 10 being living in a yurt and fermenting things, I’m somewhere about 5. I like healthy, organic food, knowing where my food is coming from and using all natural facial products. I’ve also discovered I’m a big fan of living a more simple, slower paced life and living in places that don’t involve lots of traffic, an exorbitant cost of living, too many people, competition, and a general “rat race” feel. I never would have imagined living in a less populated area until I did and thought, “Oh, I absolutely understand the appeal.” This being said, I still enjoy pretty party dresses, nice hotels, and nice restaurants and occasional fancy meals, so it’s unlikely I’ll subscribe to a life of flowy tie dyed pants or go to Burning Man anytime soon.

The West Coast is an beautiful, fairly laid back place, (if you’re not in L.A., that is) but it comes with certain practices that can seem strange when you’re accustomed to a faster pace and different lifestyle. My cousin has lived there for years, and when my aunt and uncle retired a few years ago, they joined her, along with their youngest daughter. My aunt and uncle, more conservative, had a little trouble acclimating at first, “It’s a little weird here,” they’d say. But I’d assume it’s the same way they felt when my cousin told them years ago she was driving her station wagon across the country, staying with people she’d just met along the way, and living in a converted bus for awhile. Eventually, they adjusted.

Self-improvement “workshops” are all the rage on the West Coast, as is sitting around in circles (likely at these workshops), holding hands and talking about your feelings. I’m open-minded, but none of this really appeals to me. Anytime a “workshop” has been suggested to me, I have the urge to say, “Oh, I already go to therapy, isn’t that the same thing?” Having a more East coast mentality, I like to think that therapy is more efficient, it takes an hour of my time, then I can move on to more important things, like eating and being cynical instead of spending a bunch of money and a whole weekend with strangers in a drum circle getting naked, or whatever it is that happens at a workshop. My cousin, when first exploring the West Coast, did find herself at a Yoni Gazing party, which to my understanding, involves staring at a bunch of strangers lady parts, “I thought to myself, what the hell have I gotten myself into?,” she said when telling me the story. “I don’t know,” I said, but have you considered that maybe all these workshops are just an alternative to telling someone to fuck off?” I asked. “Because that can be very healing too,” but I think it’s clear my mentality is much more abrasive than those attending some type of healing circle. I tend to be direct, which in parts of the country outside the Northeast is otherwise just known as “being a huge bitch.”

On a visit to my cousin’s last year, she asked me if I wanted to go to a Sunday morning dance class with her. I was a bit apprehensive as these people take their dancing very seriously, attend workshops and have a “dance group,” and I assumed the class may find me writhing on the floor half-naked with strangers and chanting, but I obliged. We arrived and during the “warm up,” I could feel myself staring. “Stop staring,” I said inside my head. “Don’t laugh out loud,” I coaxed my brain. There was everything you could possibly imagine, hippies dressed in unicorn spandex, an uncomfortable looking man dancing awkwardly while wearing Wranglers and a leather belt belt, someone wearing a tu-tu, and people who looked like they were just going to a regular yoga class. I quite honestly wondered if perhaps a film crew was going to walk in at any moment and announce, “Just kidding, we’re filming an episode of Portlandia!”

I wondered what these people did Monday through Friday, did they have jobs? Did the guy teaching the class wearing flowy pants do this for a career? Did it pay in money? I told myself to stop judging, we were all just there to move our bodies to the music. So I did. I let go. I danced it out. And honestly, it felt great.

‘Dawg Days

I’ve always liked sports. Growing up, I spent a lot of time watching Boston Bruins games with my Canadian grandfather, and Boston Red Sox games with my Italian grandfather, who referred to the Red Sox as the “Red Flops” during poor playing seasons. I dabbled in many sports as a kid, though softball was the only one I was halfway decent at, maybe because my mother’s younger brothers put a whiffle ball bat in my hands and taught me how to swing about the same time I learned how to walk. Boston is a sports city, and out of all the places I’ve been, there’s something about the energy and excitement of Bostonian sports fans I thought was impossible to duplicate. I still believe this to be true to a certain degree, but I now know several Georgia Bulldogs fans, and they provide fierce competition.

The population of Athens, Georgia is about 125,000, and I remember the first time I saw Sanford Stadium, home of the Georgia Bulldogs, protruding like a giant colosseum, looking out of place in an otherwise small and rather quiet place. It seats about 93,000 people, so as you can imagine, game days in Athens are quite a scene. I remember attending my first one, wide eyed and in awe of my surroundings, like much of my time in the South. There were flocks of people dressed in all red, tailgates set up all over Athens, seersucker suits, people painted different colors, and a lot of alcohol. Also like much of my time in the South, I wondered, “Is this legal?” I mean, can you drink bourbon in public at 10am? But on game day in Athens, pretty much anything goes. It’s my belief that you may be able to commit a felony during a Saturday home game in Athens and use the “Bulldog” defense. This would not surprise me.

I worked with several Georgia fans, and there was an excitement in the air on Fridays during the season before a game. The parking lot was often close to empty by 12pm, because people were traveling to Athens for the game, having friends in town to watch the game, or sometimes even traveling to the location of the away game- Mississippi, Alabama, etc. After I spent time and became friends with Georgia fans, I remembered stories from people about Bulldog fans. My cousin went to law school with a whole group of Bulldog fans who found an alumni chapter (and each other) in Boston and got together to watch games. “Oh, they’re crazy about the Bulldogs,” she said. My friend Katie went to grad school in Chapel Hill, North Carolina and became friends with UGA alumni, “I’m going to my friends this weekend to watch the Georgia game,” she’d say. “They’re nuts!”

This summer, I visited my friend Robert in Chicago. A UGA alum, we worked together in Georgia, and he moved to Chicago a few years ago for a job. A gay man, you wouldn’t necessarily imagine there’d be a corner of his apartment dedicated to sports paraphernalia, but as a Georgia fan, I believe this is an obligation. Robert told me that his first order of business upon moving to Chicago, second only to finding a place to live, was finding a UGA alumni chapter and other Bulldog fans. Find them he did, and he told me, “In 2015, we increased revenue at the bar where we watch the games by 15%. For the year.” “Cut the shit,” I responded. “No, I’m serious,” he said.

I’m loyal to a fault, I don’t give up on situations, people, (or sports teams) easily, (both a blessing and a curse in my life at times). Georgia fans are too. And I love them for it.

Why Write?

I know there are people who wonder why I write and choose to sometimes reveal intimate details about my traumatic childhood and upbringing. I’ve been accused, by people in my own family, of “seeking attention,” and needing to “still really work through some things.” I personally believe the reason I’m able to write about it is because I’ve spent years working through it, years of overcoming trauma and abuse, and realize that despite it all, I’ve managed to become a functional adult. Not to brag, but I’m really fucking proud of that.

But this is the reason I write: Tonight I attended a live storytelling event, much like The Moth. A woman told a story about growing up with her mentally ill mother, her mother kidnapped she and her siblings, told her children their father was mentally ill, and drugged her 9 year old daughter with anti-psychotic medication, because someone in the family needed to be mentally ill, but it sure as hell wasn’t going to be the mother. As a child, this woman had no idea what was happening, but later in life and after moving far away from her mother, began to put many of the pieces together, much as I’ve done throughout my life. Her story brought tears to my eyes, and so after the event, I sought her out and thanked her for sharing it. I shared part of mine, she said, “You saved yourself and survived like I did, didn’t you?”

“I did,” I said, “thank you.” So, I don’t write seeking fame, fortune, or recognition, I’m not seeking the spotlight or looking for people to tell me how amazing I am. What happened tonight is why I write, because I saved myself, and I want other people to know they can too.

Is that a Real Story?…

I’ve often heard people complain about their mothers, “God, my mother’s so crazy, she won’t leave me alone, she keeps calling me and asking me what I ate today,” or “My mother won’t stop buying me things or stopping by to check on me and telling me how to cook my sauce, it’s so annoying!”

Sometimes, for shock value, I like to interject, “Hmm, did your mother ever get married in the living room while your sister was at work, invite two of her friends from high school, but none of her own children?” or “Has your mother ever sent you a care package consisting of a bunch of rotten tangerines and $7 in cash?”…”or spent $900 at CVS in a week?” It becomes very clear, that in a “whose mom is the craziest” contest, I almost always have everyone beat by a long-shot. My mother is bi-polar, and I’m sure there are a lot of people who would prefer I didn’t talk openly about it or give the details, but throughout my life (and after a shitload of therapy), I’ve found that talking promotes healing, and connects people through shared experiences. So that’s why I write about it.

I sometimes think that people who haven’t had much experience with severe mental illness think that she’s probably very happy sometimes, then sad or depressed, then has periods of normalcy in between. But for my mother, an extreme case that features actual psychosis when she gets manic enough and is like something you’d read in a psychology textbook, it goes something like this: sometimes she runs away and we can’t find her, she moves out of my stepfather’s house and lives with other people, she doesn’t sleep for days, and during a manic episode a few years ago, drove off the road over a stone wall in someone’s yard directly into his parked car in the driveway. Luckily, nobody was hurt.

My mother, never one for following the rules, also doesn’t like to do things like take medication, go to the psychiatrist, or listen to anyone’s ideas or advice about how to take care of herself. She’s found an excuse not to take any medication that’s ever worked for her before, and conversations with her are not unlike conversing with a four-year old child. “But I don’t like carrots!” “Yes, but carrots make you strong and healthy, remember?” “Carrots make me sick, I hate them!” She’s been not well so often in recent years and non-medication compliant on so many occasions that it’s hard to separate her illness from her personality, and we wonder how much is a conscious choice on her part and how much is a diseased mind.

The mental health system in America sucks, and my mother is often turned out on the street after a short hospitalization, before she’s ready or capable of making sound decisions, which inevitably results in a subsequent hospitalization, and so on and so forth. During a recent hospitalization, after she’d disappeared and stopped answering her phone for a few days, we found her and I talked to her case worker at the hospital. I often do this, give background info, her history, medication information, etc. in essence “translate,” because the information she gives is usually wildly inaccurate and fabricated. “I can’t take that medication because it makes me drowsy, one time I fell asleep at the wheel!” “No, you were manic and you hadn’t slept in days, and you were driving around at 4am and crashed into someone’s car, it’s not the medications fault.” As you can see, the stories don’t always match up. The case worker put me on hold, and passed me around to several people, which is typically the case, then I was told they needed to ask my mother if she’d sign a release to give permission for the team to talk to me, which seemed strange to put her in charge, seeing as her decisions have previously included living in a room above a thrift store owned by a woman she barely knew. I finally heard a voice on the other end of the phone, “Ok, all set,” the woman at the hospital said. “She said yes,?” I asked. “She said okay… for now,” the woman answered. We both laughed. “That’s great, I said, “she’s probably going to let me talk to you, until she doesn’t like what I have to say,” I said. And that’s exactly what happened. She’s told me in the past how reasonable and logical I am, as if it was an accusation, almost, “Oh Doria, always so REASONALBE.” It’s always been a point of contention in our relationship, my logic and reason, and her irrationality and inconsistency; even times when she’s doing well, we rarely see eye to eye on much of anything.

Each hospitalization and episode I hope will be the last, the final straw that scares her and makes her choose finally to fully to take care of herself, knowing full well it won’t, and that this pattern will never change.  A few years ago, after her car crashing incident, I told her I really wanted her to take care of herself and that when she didn’t, it made it hard for me to continue to have a relationship with her, it seemed to resonate and I have no doubt scared her, since I’ve often come to her rescue when shit hits the fan. I thought maybe it would last, and it did- for a time- but I realized it was only temporary. And so, I try to find the humor in the experience. One day she called me and was talking rather incoherently about her plans and whereabouts and I said, “Mom, sometimes I don’t really know where you are, what you’re doing, or what you’re talking about,” and her response was, “You know what, neither do I.” Sometimes she calls me three times a day, other times I don’t hear from her for 3 months.

My sister and I recently had to have a family meeting while she was hospitalized, she was refusing to take any medication that had worked for her before, and as a result taking something completely ineffective that was doing nothing. So, like reasoning with a child to eat his vegetables, we sat with her and convinced her to take what’s worked for her in the past. It worked, but I heard recently she changed it again, because when she wants to avoid doing something, she’ll stop at nothing to accomplish it. When we left the hospital that day, my sister asked for someone to get her car key from my mom, it was the only key she had to her car, my mother had stolen the car at some point to escape (not the first time she’s stolen one of our cars, but that’s another story, I suppose) and she hadn’t been able to use the car. “That’s the only key you have?,” the nurse at the front desk asked. “Yes,” my sister answered, “also, it’s not the first time she’s done this.” “Wow, I’m sorry, this must be really hard,” she said, “I bet you have lots of stories.” I smiled, “You have no idea,” I said. I told her the story about her living room wedding, my sister chimed in about the other time my mother stole her car. And in that moment, after we’d pleaded with my mother to make a reasonable choice as if she was a child, and the trauma it brought up from all the times we needed her but didn’t have her in the past,  and because there was nothing else we could do, we laughed.

Bird is the Word

My cousin owns an eco-friendly hair and skincare salon in Olympia, Washington. She used to work in a fast-paced salon on Newbury St. in Boston, but she grew up on a farm, and quickly decided that pace of life and way of doing business wasn’t for her and has lived here for over 16 years. She runs the business out of her house, and being in Olympia, a place well known for its hippy population, sees some interesting things. Although she did- in fact- have a Burning Man-themed costume wedding, she’s toned down some of her hippy ways in recent years, and I believe fully shaves her armpits and wears real deodorant these days.

She recently told me she’s looking to do a little more marketing outside of the area, perhaps extending into the Seattle market, to attract some more clients with expendable income. “Oh, do you mean people who’ll pay you in money instead of fresh garden tomatoes, healing crystals, or homemade dream catchers?,” I asked sarcastically. “Exactly,” she answered. Her current clients range from professionals who work for the state, to a few people who come from Seattle to get more personalized service, to two older hippy women in their late sixties, Betty and Frieda. I asked if Betty and Frieda were a couple, they’re not, but they always book their appointments and come together. Betty is low-key, quiet, and laid back, and Frieda is more intense and energetic.  At her last appointment, Frieda paid my cousin in rolls of quarters. “I was like, what the fuck am I going to do with all these quarters?” she asked when recounting the story. “You’re not serious,” I said. “No, I am, she paid me in all quarters,” she said.

Frieda wears tie dyed shirts, long flowy skirts, and tie dyed socks with Birkenstocks, naturally. My cousin said large and strange hats are typically incorporated into her outfits as well, which seems about right. But perhaps Frieda’s most notable accessory is her pet cockatiel, which accompanied her to her latest appointment. “Say what?,” I asked. “Oh, it gets better,” she said. Apparently, Frieda has had her pet cockatiel for thirty years. “She hatched it from an egg thirty years ago” she told me. I started laughing uncontrollably. The cockatiel had a stroke recently, so now Frieda carries it in a cat carrier, with an accompanying diaper bag of accessories. “Stop,” I said to my cousin, it’s own diaper bag!?” “Yes,” she answered, she had to make two trips from the car to bring in all its stuff.”

“We should probably start to write some of this stuff down,” my cousin said.

“Game on,” I answered, “bird is the word…”