It’s Your Body

Several years ago, I wrote a blog post called Tickling, about how tickling can be a form of aggression, and how it can often be very unwelcome and inappropriate. That blog post resonated with a lot of people. It’s short and to the point, so I hope you’ll read it.

I thought of that post recently. I was really impressed to discover that one of my nieces is teaching her two-year-old daughter that no one should get to touch her in any way, shape, form, or fashion, without her permission. Forget about good touch, bad touch. It’s her body. She gets to say who touches it, good or otherwise. We all have that right, but we often forget that.

Just because Uncle Fred is a touchy-feely guy does not mean that he gets a free pass just so you can avoid ruffling family feathers. If he’s making you uncomfortable, that’s never okay. Not ever. Even if you love Uncle Fred to pieces. And that applies to recipients of those touches of any age, not just children.

Also, just because someone is in a position of authority, such as a doctor or a dentist or a teacher or a boss or a politician, or even an older relative or a spouse, that does not mean they get to decide how you are touched. Absolutely not.

I’m not saying that every person who is touching you inappropriately is automatically a sex offender who is grooming you. Some people are just clueless. But it doesn’t really matter. If you aren’t comfortable in a tactile situation, regardless of your age, orientation, or relationship, it’s your body, not theirs, and you get to dictate what happens to it.

Your body is truly the only thing in life that you will always have all to yourself. That’s why it’s such an extreme violation when someone abuses it. I love knowing that there are children out there who are being taught their own agency practically from birth. That’s how it should be. I wish it had been taught to me.

Always establish your own boundaries and make them crystal clear. That’s not being rude. It’s appropriate. And I think that you’ll find that most people are a lot more comfortable, knowing the rules in any given scenario.

Never forget that your body belongs to you and you alone. Always.

Inappropriate Touch

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A Deeper Look at Coloring Books

I must confess that I have adult coloring books. And that really does feel like a confession to me. Isn’t coloring the stuff of children? I’m slightly embarrassed by this activity, but I find it very comforting at the same time.

In a world that feels increasingly out of control, coloring is wonderfully predictable. There are established boundaries. And while these boundaries do exist, I still get to choose how pretty to make the spaces within them. It’s my way of feeling creative without actually expending too much mental energy on it. I can get lost in the patterns and set my anxieties aside for a brief, colorful moment.

So when I came across an article entitled, “The Dark, Forgotten History of Coloring Books”, I didn’t want to read it. I didn’t want my multicolored bubble to be burst in any way. But, as is so often the case, curiosity got the better of me.

It seems that coloring books first came out as a way to induce submission in children. They were used to teach them how to behave. It’s part of the reason so many of us are loathe to color outside of the lines. Them’s the rules, after all.

The first coloring book was called The Little Folks Painting book. You can see it here. It includes lessons which are really warnings about not being disobedient. Don’t play tricks on people. Don’t be selfish. Don’t oversleep. According to the article, one of the lessons is,

“Never be discontented, never wish for anything you cannot have.”

Well, now, isn’t that creepy? By coloring, we’re being compliant. We’re being contained. We’re learning to accept the things we cannot control. By killing time in this way, we’re also not being trouble-makers. And John Lewis reminded us how important it is to make good trouble.

Even more chillingly, the article says,

“To color is to inhabit a world designed by others, to dwell in an environment where you are left with no options but to memorize what is already there… After days of coloring these diminutive dreams, I came to see the energy I spent on it as dimming my capacity to imagine how a future can be conceived and built.”

Shades of 1984.

So will I stop coloring? Probably not. Sometimes you just need to shut off your brain. But it’s crucial to remember to turn it back on.

Maybe I’ll have to come up with even more ways to make these designs my own, besides simply choosing which colors go where. Perhaps I’ll use the designs as wrapping paper for a gift. Or maybe I’ll fold them into Christmas ornaments. Maybe I’ll take the author’s suggestion and tear them up and make a collage. Or I’ll create a tattoo.

I’ve always been rather noncompliant. I don’t suspect that will change any time soon. I do believe in certain rules and regulations, simply in order to live without chaos. But I hate the idea of being manipulated in any way. So yeah, I’m apt to color outside the lines of life.

But every once in a while, it’s nice to let others make the choices for you, if only on the page of a coloring book. As with any habit, though, moderation is key. I don’t want to turn into a Stepford colorer. That would not be good.

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Diagnosed with Inflammation

Recently, someone I respect very much told me that my blog is inflammatory, and that he found that disappointing. Even though I can’t deny that accusation, it did make me sad. It made me feel as though he viewed my blog as flawed, and since my blog is basically me on a page, it is kind of hard not to take it personally.

First of all, I’d like to think that my blog isn’t inflammatory all the time. I do write about nature and travel and my dogs and my gratitude for the many gifts that we are all given by the universe. I write about hope and courage and decency. I write about the many things I have learned and the many things I still need to learn. I am proud of this quirky little blog of mine.

But yes, my politics are blatantly obvious. Yes, I call out public figures. I do not give Trump a pass on his idiocy. Sorry. I’m hardly alone in that. And if you put yourself out there and are reaping the sweet benefits of your fame, you also have to be able to drink the bitter dregs of your infamy as well.

Let’s face it, though, politicians and their ilk are not reading my blog. They’ve got much bigger fish to fry. My blog is a mere clownfish in the overall media ocean. No meat on this bone.

But my respected friend felt that my inflammatory remarks might offend those people who disagree with me. He has a trait that I’ve never had: diplomacy. He tolerates dissention much more than I ever will. He is all about smoothing things over. His gut reaction is, “Well, now, everyone is entitled to his or her opinion…”

Well, now, I couldn’t agree more. And this blog is my opinion. My forum. My sandbox. That same friend has also informed me that I need to develop a thicker skin, but apparently that advice does not extend to my readers.

In case you did not realize this, dear reader, you don’t need my permission to disagree with me. And I strongly suspect that those who take offense do not read my blog for long. And that’s okay. There are plenty of forums out there that will support every opinion under the sun. (Don’t you just love the internet?)

I have this fantasy that people from the future will stumble upon my blog, and they’ll appreciate seeing how one person felt about current events. Count on me to give my unvarnished opinion about what is happening, right as it’s happening. (And none of us can deny that a heck of a lot is happening these days.)

By all means, put your thoughts out there as well. I highly encourage you to do so. But for facts, researchers might want to look someplace other than this blog.

I genuinely feel that our politics say a lot about who we are. So, yup, I will make sweeping judgments about certain political attitudes. I can like you as a person and think your political views are foolish and a poor reflection of humanity. If you don’t want to hear me call out views that I find irrational, then don’t read my blog.

Here’s one thing you’ll never see on The View from a Drawbridge, though: the kind of hostile, vicious personal attacks that I’ve been treated to on the internet in the past few days. I’m not a politician. I have only a marginal influence over a very small circle of friends. I know tensions are high, but I don’t deserve the bs that has been hurled in my direction recently.

I would never call an individual, total stranger’s comments asinine, or attack their character when I’ve never even met them. And I will call you out if you do so in any forum of which I’m a part. Because to me, that behavior is unconscionable. I’ll attack groups. I’ll attack public figures. But I’ll never verbally beat up an individual. That’s crossing the line.

But yes, I’ll call out an individual who is attacking me, or going after anyone else for that matter. I’ll protect those I care about from the harsh injustices of this world as long as I draw breath. That’s a promise.

Sometimes diplomacy is what’s needed. Sadly, diplomacy is not my skill set. Knowing your skill set is a part of what makes you an adult.

But sometimes diplomacy is not what is needed. Sometimes, you need to take a stand. You need to step up when someone is feeling bullied, even if you can’t relate to the feeling, and even if you think the bully in question is usually practically perfect in every way. That’s what’s called integrity, and it takes courage.

Even diplomats have to respect that there are limits. Boundaries matter. No one could mistake me for Switzerland, but I have boundaries just the same. So if you want to play in my sandbox, play nice. Otherwise I’ll invite you to find another sandbox, and if you persist, don’t be surprised and don’t blame me if I hit you with my verbal pail.

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I’ll Take Love with Conditions

I think unconditional love is an absurd construct. Even my dog has his limits. If I stopped feeding him or started torturing him, how much do you think he would love me then?

While it’s comforting to think that there is love that you can count on, I believe that the responsibility for maintaining that bond goes both ways. Frankly, I’d find it rather creepy if someone loved me so unconditionally that I could become a monster and that person would be okay with that. I do not want someone loving me even if I decide to be a serial killer. I expect to be held accountable for my actions.

I was once in a 16-year relationship with someone who enjoyed saying, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” I knew he was attempting to be reassuring, but in truth that always made me inwardly shudder. I don’t want blind adoration. I actually kind of feel better when there are well-defined boundaries. When I know where I stand, I can do so with confidence. That, and there’s a great deal of pressure to maintain your center of decency when, literally, anything goes. (I admit I didn’t handle it well.)

Parents are expected to love their children unconditionally. I can’t really speak from experience, as I chose not to have kids, but I suspect that “unconditional” condition is the very source of a great deal of dysfunction. If “unconditional” were taken off the table, more parents would be invested in instilling values in their children that would encourage them to be decent human beings, because it’s safe to assume that most parents really do want to love their children.

If we stopped looking at love as if it were a possession, as if, once obtained, you get to keep it, a lot of things would change. If people genuinely believed that one must be loving and lovable in order to receive love, this would be a kinder, gentler planet. If we knew that love must be earned, fewer people would remain with their abusers. If we set the bar ever-so-slightly higher when choosing a mate, it would make for much healthier family units. And if we looked at love as something that must constantly be nurtured in order to thrive, we wouldn’t be so shocked and devastated when it withers on the vine due to our own neglect.

It might also allow us to exercise critical thinking. This whole blind loyalty thing that is becoming the cultural norm is actually rather terrifying. If you vote for someone whose behavior becomes more despicable over time, your FIRST instinct should be a withdrawal of political love for that person. Your standards should be high, and your tolerance for outrage should be short-lived. Our leaders should be kept in check, as their powers allow for rather more destruction than most of us can endure.

So, dear reader, be loving. Be kind. And remember that it’s okay to set boundaries.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

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Boundary Disputes Made Easy

If Jerusalem has taught us nothing else, it’s that people take their boundaries very seriously. We like there to be a clear-cut distinction between what’s ours and what’s yours. Make no mistake: We don’t really forgive you your trespasses. History bears this out.

Because of this, it should come as no shock that we also have boundary issues on a personal level. Actually, no, man, I do NOT want you touching me without permission. Don’t act so surprised.

In fact, I don’t want to be “accidentally” elbowed in the elevator. I don’t want to be patted on the shoulder. I don’t want any unsolicited hugs. I don’t want to be forced into inappropriate conversations any more than I want to be forced into inappropriate corners. I don’t want to be followed or harassed or intimidated or taken advantage of or hooted at or tooted at. I don’t want to see your private bits, either digitally or in person. I don’t want to be called honey or sweetie or darling or dear. And my eyes? They’re up here.

Here’s an idea: if you want to do something with me, just ask. I’ll let you know. Is that so hard? And in the meantime, keep your freakin’ hands to yourself. It’s just that simple.

So, pay attention. There will be a test later. And I don’t grade on a curve. This is a Pass/Fail proposition.

Proxemics

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Psst. Over Here. In the Unpainted Corner.

I tend to think of relationships as solid, especially the long-lasting ones. But here lately I’ve been working on my boundaries quite a bit, and that has tested quite a few friendships. It’s scary and it’s lonely and I keep doubting myself. Just in time for the holidays. Woo hoo.

I have always had boundary issues, probably because none were ever established for me as a child. I tend to be a wide open, laissez-faire kind of person, which is fine when things are going well, but not so hot when things go pear-shaped. While I’m quick to stand up for others, I’m not one to stand up for myself.

Saying, “What you are doing is not okay with me” is something that doesn’t come naturally to me. It takes effort. It causes me a great deal of stress. That probably stems from the fact that I constantly second-guess myself. Am I doing the right thing? Am I being rational? Is it okay that I’m not okay with what you’re doing? Bleh. It’s all so exhausting.

So here I am, practicing boundaries. Here’s what’s been going on in just the past few weeks:

  • I’ve had to tell one distant friend from high school that I’m not comfortable with him popping up out of the blue after 35 years and sending me about a dozen (ignored) hug gifs and expecting me to do so in return. We never even hugged in high school. He didn’t get the message, and I had to un-friend him on Facebook.
  • Another friend used my blog to try to right a wrong, but when the post got the attention of “real” reporters, he refused to follow through. This undermines my integrity as a writer. It also gives me the impression that he doesn’t take my blog very seriously, and was just hoping to clear his conscience and not actually get results. I had to explain why, and just how much, I didn’t appreciate this behavior. I haven’t heard from him since.
  • And even as we speak, a contractor (not a friend, but still…) is about to receive a letter from me, outlining the fact that he ripped me off to the tune of $1700.00, which is money I can’t afford to lose. We’ll probably wind up in small claims court over this. But he’s an intimidating guy. I really don’t know how he’s going to react to my letter. I’m sitting here, feeling sick to my stomach about this, waiting for things to hit the fan.
  • But probably the most distressing situation of all is that some very beloved friends shocked me recently, to the point where I felt the need to distance myself and write them a letter about how I felt, in which I asked them to please help me to understand why they reacted the way they did. Boy, did I ever paint myself into a corner with that one. I’ve had no response from them. Crickets. So now I’m left wondering if I’ve misinterpreted things and they’re furious, or if they’re just too embarrassed to respond. It also makes me wonder if they care about me as much as I care about them, and not knowing that makes it extremely awkward to envision walking back into their lives again. I don’t know if I’d be welcomed or not. I don’t want to force them into anything, but on the other hand, I can’t just pretend nothing happened. It’s too important to me.  I miss them, but I’m so confused.

Boundaries, man. They suck. As my therapist says, though, once you start making changes and move toward a healthier you, not everyone in your life will want to tag along.

So if you’re looking for me, I’m the one standing over here in the lonely, unpainted corner. (I guess if you’re wanting to establish boundaries, that’s one way to do it.) All I can say is that I’m a work in progress, and it will be really interesting to see who is still with me when the dust settles.

Meanwhile, I sure miss the days when it was easy to get a Xanax prescription.

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Relentless Compassion

It’s for your own good. Tough love. This is a last resort. Mother knows best.

It sounds good, in theory. Like someone has your best interests at heart, and is establishing firm boundaries. It’s about time, some would say. Strong leadership! Yeah!

But even the slightest scratch to the surface of this theory reveals its many flaws.

First of all, who made you the Decider? How do you know if your way is the best way? What if I disagree?

Second, how is it that you’re the one person on the planet who wouldn’t allow this power to go to your head? Forcing people to do things, or live a certain way, or preventing certain behaviors, is the tip of a very large and corrupt iceberg.

And most importantly, what if you have a hidden agenda? What if you really don’t have my best interests at heart? What if you’re manipulating me to get what you want, and to hell with everyone else?

Relentless compassion is not a good look. Not for parents, or employers, or politicians. Especially politicians who are callous, narcissistic, racist, misogynistic, semi-literate, and completely out of touch with reality. For example, the idiot in the meme below.

I don’t want these types of people controlling, legislating, judging or defunding my life. I will resist them every chance I get. Just sayin’.

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Actually, No.

Here’s the thing. (Yes, there’s always a thing.) I was raised to be a good girl. My default position is to respect authority. Be cooperative. Don’t make waves. Accommodate others. And above all, always, always be polite.

Well, you know what? Fuck that. All those values are great if everyone is playing by the golden rule. But it’s been my experience that most people do not. As a result, I’ve been bullied and taken advantage of my entire life.

I’ve had it up to here. (No, not there. Much higher than that. Here.)

I’m over it. I’m done. I will not be pushed around anymore. Not by strangers, not by loved ones, and definitely not by politicians. I am establishing the sharp boundaries that I’ve always allowed to remain fuzzy at best. This far, and no further.

I’m not planning to become a bully. I’m not going to be gratuitously rude or selfish. But I won’t be passively stepped on. I am learning to stick up for myself. I’m learning that I have a right to say no. It’s frustrating that it’s taken me so long to figure this stuff out.

We need to teach our children to be respectful, yes, but also not to take any crap. Because as the world becomes more crowded, there will be plenty of crap to go around. And then some.

It is possible to be kind and strong at the same time. It’s okay, and very necessary, to stand in your power. It may take practice to reach that acceptable balance. But it can be done.

kindness

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Learning to Say No

My upbringing was strange to say the least, but in one way it was typical: as a female, I was always taught to put everyone’s wants and needs ahead of my own. This is a mistake that seems to be made the world over. It does not serve any of us well.

Women are expected to be nurturing. From a biological standpoint that makes sense. Like it or not, we generally do the majority of the child rearing. But sadly it seems that we are expected to apply those skills much more broadly than that. Society assumes we will nurture everyone but ourselves.

My whole life I’ve struggled with boundaries. I hate to say no. I worry about disappointing people. I want to be supportive. I stretch myself way too thinly.

As a result, I carry much more stress than I should. I get taken advantage of. I find it impossible to be the best me that I can be.

If you don’t exercise a healthy level of self-care, you won’t be able to be there authentically for the people whom you care about. If you don’t set boundaries, you cannot prevent others from pushing you to your limits. It’s time for a change.

It’s okay to say no. It might take practice. If you don’t feel comfortable, at first, in making that change for yourself, think of the example that you will set for the younger generation. By taking care of yourself, you will teach them the value of doing the same. It’s a lesson that needs to be reinforced early and often.

Take care of you.

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Empathy vs. Boundaries

The other day, in advance of what was expected to be a catastrophic storm, I saw a woman standing on the sidewalk on the south end of my bridge. She was moaning quietly to herself, and rocking back and forth. I was coming back from doing some maintenance nearby, and was due to walk right past her.

This put me on the horns of a moral dilemma. Everyone should have been taking shelter at this point. And clearly this woman was in distress. But we have a history, this woman and I.

Due to the tragic underfunding of mental health services in this country in general, and in this state and city in particular, more and more mentally ill people roam our streets. And for some reason they often are attracted to our drawbridges. This woman is one of our regulars.

We call her the suitcase lady, because usually she has two large, unwieldy suitcases in tow. Oddly, this day they were not in evidence. But she was. And she scares me. She has cursed me like a sailor in the past, and lunged at me. I had strong reason to believe she wouldn’t welcome any offer of assistance from me.

So I walked on by, giving her the widest possible berth. And then I went into my warm, dry tower. And I watched her from the window as the rain continued to fall on her ragged raincoat.

What to do. Should I call 911? I’ve done it before. Several times. They have made it abundantly clear that such calls are not appreciated. She was not breaking any laws. And while she may pose a danger to herself, she is just one of the thousands who wander around Seattle, posing a danger “only” to themselves every day. Usually by the time the police get around to responding, the person in question has moved on. I suspect that’s intentional.

While I was contemplating my next move, a jogger came by and stopped to talk to the lady. They talked for quite some time. Then the jogger put her arm around the woman and they walked together off the bridge. I’ll probably never know what happened next. I hope it ended well for all concerned.

So which of us did the right thing? Me, or the jogger? I struggle with this on a daily basis. I can’t shake the feeling that perhaps both of us got it wrong. Surely there must be a point where compassion and self-protection can intersect in a healthy way. But how does one find that point?

I would love to be able to save the world, but it’s also important to set boundaries. I’m pretty much all I have these days. It would be foolish to put my life at risk. But I ache for the human condition. I feel helpless to hold back the tide. I want to make a difference. I just don’t want to die trying.

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