What are you really saying?

It pays to look deeper.

Here lately, I’ve had to really think about the ways I communicate with others. I am a literal thinker. If you say something, I assume you mean it. I’m sure my autism has a great deal to do with that. I’m starting to believe that neurotypicals don’t always mean what they say, and apparently they’re capable of figuring out when things should be taken seriously, and when they should be taken with a grain of salt. I don’t have that skill, so navigating that world can be very confusing for me. A lot of misunderstandings can and do occur.

I find it much simpler to be a straight shooter. No games. No reading between the lines. No wasted time. But apparently that makes me seem too abrupt and too rigid.

I’m also told that I overshare. I like to give details so everyone is on the same page, but it seems that many neurotypicals would prefer the broad strokes and the chance to come to their own conclusions. Anything more than that seems to cause irritation. So here I am, trying to be helpful, and instead I’m annoying.

I’m not sure I’ll ever get communication right. I hope I’m becoming more self-aware, at least. But in the end, I’ll still be who I am.

However, I can see how it can be quite handy to know what people are really trying to say. If they are expressing a concern that seems irrational, it pays to look deeper. What are they truly worried about?

This is going to take practice. But every once in a while I get it. I wrote about one of those times years ago, in a blog post entitled, A Lesson in Subtext. I’m rather proud of that post. I hope you’ll check it out.

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When Women Talk

There’s a reason we’re so often interrupted.

I just saw the most profoundly simple and yet the most intensely complex movie I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s a movie that could change us all if we let it.

It is based on the true story of a group of Mennonite women and children as young as 3 in Bolivia who have been tranquilized and brutally raped by their men and boys for years. I’ll have much more to say about this in my next blog post. First, though, let’s concentrate on this incredible movie, entitled Women Talking.

I know that discussions of this type of brutality can be triggering for some, and might make them want to avoid this movie. Let me reassure you that the abuses themselves are not shown. Just as the women in Bolivia did, the characters in this film wake up, confused, bruised, and bloody, knowing something horrible had happened, but not knowing exactly what.

For a long time, they are not believed. (The hysterical woman trope will plague us for centuries.) Then one night one of the rapists is caught, and he gives up the name of 8 others. Never having had to deal with such horrific crimes before, the colony leaders decide to give these criminals to the government for prosecution.

It appears that justice will be served. But based on their religious beliefs, the women in this colony know they will be expected to forgive these heinous acts if the men confess and repent. They are expected to look the other way and not speak of the violence that has washed over them in bloody waves. And they have a 2 day window in which they are expected to make this adjustment.

So, while the rest of the colony men are dragging the criminals into the city, many of the women and girls gather together in a hayloft to decide how to move forward. They are faced with three choices. Do nothing. Stay and Fight. Leave.

Soon, it becomes quite clear that they cannot do nothing. One woman points out that her 4-year-old daughter was one of the victims. What woman could stand by and do nothing under those circumstances? And the fact that domestic violence and incest run rampant in the community as well can no longer be ignored.

Do they want to stay and fight and build a colony that’s more equitable, that allows women to have a voice, that provides them with literacy and an education and gives them the opportunity to say no, or do they want leave everything they’ve ever known and go into a strange world plotted out only on maps that they have never even seen?

The debate becomes more complicated as the movie progresses. Do they raise their small boys in the shadows of their violent fathers, or do they teach them a new way? At what age do boys become potentially dangerous? 10? 13? 15? Is their freedom and the ability to keep their children safe more important to them than tradition and family and the comfort of the things that they’ve always known? How will they support themselves when they can’t even read?

In addition, until now they have never had the words to speak about their bodies and how they should be treated. Can they ever be silenced again? Many of these women have fallen pregnant due to these rapes. Will they be able to love these children?

I won’t further spoil the movie for you, but I urge you to see it. Even though these women live vastly different lives than most of us do, the movie’s themes will still resonate with most women. Especially the central theme, which is that women are discouraged from talking in general.

There’s a reason why we are so often interrupted, ignored, discounted, dismissed, overruled, and left out of the discussion entirely. Women talking, especially to one another, gives us strength, determination, knowledge, insight and courage. Women talking allows us to see possibilities that we’re often too busy or too undermined to contemplate on our own. Women talking equates to power, and many elements of society are very threatened when we access this power in any way.

Do you ever wonder why women make up approximately half the population of the world, and yet we are the oppressed minorities, to one degree or another, in every single country? In my opinion, it all boils down to two things: childbearing and communication. The powers that be actively work to take control of our reproductive rights, and more subtly, keep us separated as much as they can.

Some countries and religions would prefer that we have as many children as possible whether we like it or not. From their emotionless standpoint, children are valuable commodities, as they become our future workers, soldiers, and consumers. Our wombs are the factories in which these commodities are produced.

There’s also the societal “side benefit” that pregnancy, to a certain extent, incapacitates us for 9 months each time. Yes, it’s possible to still work and carry on with life in that condition, but let’s face it, most of us would not be running any marathons in the third trimester or building houses or winning any fights should we be forced to defend ourselves. And afterward, it’s really hard to become a captain of industry when you have a toddler in tow. Meanwhile, a scary percentage of men  don’t provide the child support that they should, which forces many women into a level of poverty that they should never have to endure.

Other societal factions go to the opposite extreme and attempt to prevent us from having children even when we want them. Perhaps they have concerns about overpopulation. Maybe they view certain women as being unfit to reproduce. Eugenics is alive and well, as is forced sterilization.

We don’t discuss any of these topics nearly as often as we should. Even so, most women know that the struggle with these issues is worldwide. It is the ultimate power play to make our voices go unheard.

We Americans are taught to believe that we have more freedom than any other people on earth, but that’s a lie. Our health care system is abysmal for starters, which undermines this country’s very foundation. And the illusion that women’s rights are taken seriously has been challenged by the fact that there is such an insane pay gap between genders, and to make matters worse, Roe vs. Wade has always been under threat and has now been overturned. We should not overlook the fact that men’s bodies are not restricted in any way by legislation, and they never will be.

I haven’t felt like an American citizen since that moment when my right to choose was stripped from me, and I doubt I ever will feel like one again. Women, in general, are only tolerated if they can be controlled. And what better way to restrict a woman than by taking control of a bodily function?

Keeping us from talking to one another is a part of that control. We don’t seem to notice it as much as the reproductive rights issue, but it’s still pervasive. Men still hang out. They go to bars, they watch sports. It’s much less accepted when women do those things. Instead, we’re kept so busy that we barely notice that we don’t get together very often. We’re expected to stay home and make sandwiches and change diapers. At work we are pitted against one another, fighting over what few breadcrumbs the men see fit to toss in our direction. This, too, is a form of control.

It is important for each one of us to think about the things that tie us down and the things that allow us to fly. We could fly a lot higher if we were more cohesive, but ultimately, each woman has to choose her own path and remember that as she does so, she is also forging a better path for the young women of the future. If things remain as they are, these changes will be so incremental that we’ll barely notice them in our lifetimes. And it’s quite obvious that we’re more than capable of backsliding. We must remain vigilant if we want to make any progress at all.

I won’t tell you what the women in the movie decide to do. You’ll have to see for yourself. I will tell you that the real life women in Bolivia have made entirely different choices. I’ll discuss that in the next post.

I urge you to see Women Talking. I was disappointed that it didn’t win an Oscar for best picture, but it was up against some stiff competition. As with life, timing can be everything.

I will leave you with this: The last sentence in the movie, spoken by a woman to an infant, is, “your story will be different from ours.” It is up to us to determine whether that will be good news or bad, but I’m choosing to look at it as cause for hope.

Three cheers for differences.

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Body Talk

Ignore your body at your own peril.

Your body is speaking to you all the time.

Feeling tightness in the neck and shoulders? “Girl, you’re stressed out.”

Grinding your teeth in your sleep? “Um… I told you you were stressed out. When are you going to do something about it?”

Stomach issues? “Stop eating that crap. I don’t like it.”

Hungover? “Less is more, idiot.”

I’d call this “body language”, but the phrase has already been taken. Nevertheless, there’s communication going on, whether you choose to listen or not. But ignore it at your own peril.

I’ve known a lot of people (usually guys but not always), who like to ignore their bodies. They’ll power through. They won’t go to the doctor. They’ll ignore pain for as long as they can, until the damage is irreversible. “Oh, I have a tumor the size of a basketball? No wonder I’ve been feeling funny. I guess I have a week to live now. Pity.”

Nine times out of ten, it’s guys who sport those melon-sized cysts on the Dr. Pimple Popper videos. What woman would willingly walk around with a second head growing out of her neck unless she was forced to due to lack of health insurance? I mean, come on, guys. Why would you let anything get so out of control?

But to be fair, for the life of me, I never can understand those women who don’t know they are pregnant until the baby pops out. Talk about denial. I mean… how… Oh, I could go off on a tangent here, but you can already imagine.

Not only should you listen to what your body is trying to tell you, but you should also take the time to initiate the conversation. Meditate. Sit alone and be still and open to hearing what is being said. Because let’s face it, without our bodies, we’re done. And it’s not like you can trade it in for a new model.

I’m guessing there were a whole bunch of red flags flying for this one.

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The Annihilation of Space

We can now talk to just about anyone on the planet any time that we want to.

I just finished a Pokemon Go battle with some friends I’ve made therein. They are from Guatemala, the Netherlands, Poland, and South Africa. Of course I don’t know them by name, and I don’t know what they look like, and I never will. That’s fine. But it makes me smile to think that for a few minutes there, five of us, from different parts of the planet, were focused on one task. I wish my mother were alive to see that. It’s truly miraculous.

In this internet age, not a day goes by when I’m not in communication with someone from another country. I administer several Facebook groups. I know people from all over in the virtual world of Second Life. I have friends that I talk to on Skype. I have relatives in many parts of the globe. The miles no longer matter.

On my drive home the other night, I heard an interview with Steve Inskeep. He was talking about his latest book, Imperfect Union. It sounds like a fascinating read. But one of the things he discussed was that moment when Samuel Morse sent the first telegraph message from Washington DC to Baltimore. “WHAT HATH GOD WROUGHT” indeed.

There’s no way to overstate what a big deal that was. It was also an election year, 1844, and soon news of the debates were being sent over those miles, in real time. That was unheard of. Inskeep says people were calling it the “annihilation of space” at the time.

We’ve been annihilating space ever since. We can now talk to just about anyone on the planet any time that we want to. News spreads around the globe in record time. (Unfortunately, drone strikes can also be done remotely. Every rose has its thorn.)

What I love most about this destruction of space is that evildoers have a lot less space in which to get away with things. We all have cell phones. You might have been able to anonymously kneel on someone’s neck in years past, but not anymore. There’s nowhere for scumbags to hide. We will see your face.

Perhaps someday we’ll be able to annihilate injustice, too. I’d like to think that’s coming. I wish it would hurry up.

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Trees Know More Than You Think

They remember. They learn.

I just read a fascinating article, entitled, “Never Underestimate the Intelligence of Trees” by Brandon Keim. It was both gripping and educational from beginning to end. I strongly urge you to read it.

Here are but a few of the things I learned from this article:

  • There is a fungal/root connection that allows nutrients to flow, but it also connects trees to each other.
  • They form networks with mother trees at the center of communities, exchanging nutrients and water.
  • Plants communicate. They perceive and receive messages, and will change their behaviors based on those messages.
  • They remember. They learn.
  • When a forest is under attack, it actually emits a defense chemistry that you can smell.
  • Trees can recognize seedlings that are related to them, and give advantages to those seedlings over those of a “stranger”. They are capable of making that choice.
  • When a plant is stressed out, it releases serotonin, just like we do.
  • If you clip a plant’s leaves or put a bunch of bugs on them, their neurochemistry changes. They send warning messages to their neighbors.

Mind officially blown. I think I’ll be seeing my next hike in the woods entirely differently. Hopefully this new mindset will give me comfort, rather than the creeps. Like I’m being watched. Like their talking about me. Hmm…

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“What’s Your Problem?”

Healthy relationships thrive on communication.

As they say, hindsight is 20/20. I’ve learned a great deal about communication from my healthy relationship with my husband. It makes me realize how messed up all my past relationships have been.

Years ago, pre-husband, when I had something that (I thought) was interesting to share, I’d say, “Hey Bob!” (Name changed because, to be honest, I really don’t care.)

He’d respond, “What’s your problem?”

That would take the wind out of my sails. Here, I wanted to tell him this cool thing I’d heard on NPR. I wanted to share a moment. A laugh. A smile. Instead of responding with enthusiasm, he’d come at me with his typical negativity.

For Bob, everything was a problem. Being alive was a problem. You’ve never met a sadder sack in your entire life. It made people uncomfortable. They wanted to avoid him. I didn’t realize how much his horrible attitude weighed me down until I got out from under it.

Who wants to be in a relationship where everything you say is interpreted as some sort of problem? I certainly didn’t. And even more insidious is the fact that clearly there was a lot under the surface that he was failing to say. He’d much rather be a martyr than assertively communicate and work out issues. No positive growth to be had there. Instead, I got the passive aggressive, “What’s your problem?”

Oh, I tried to talk to him about it on multiple occasions. He didn’t seem to think that any changes were needed, so I was left to realize that the problem was, in fact, his. I hope he hasn’t carried that on to future relationships. I would wish rather more for him than that.

But his Facebook page indicates that he’s still unhappy with life. It’s an endless litany of complaints, negativity, bitter humor, deep cynicism, and depression. Every once in a while there will be something pleasant in there, but if you count each post as positive or negative, the negative stuff outweighs those things ten to one, and half the time the positive things were posted to his page by someone else. It makes me sad just to look at it. It also makes me relieved that I’m no longer breathing that toxic air.

Now I’m married to someone who is interested in what I have to say. He also happens to have a lot of interesting things to say himself. I look forward to talking to him. It isn’t a chore for either of us. I save up stuff to tell him at that happy moment when I finally get home, and we communicate positively throughout the day. And now I realize that’s how it should be. How lucky am I?

Yes, life will throw its fair share of problems at you. There’s no denying that. But that’s not the lens through which I choose to view the world. It’s not my automatic assumption. I also happen to think that negativity is learned, and can be unlearned, but some people would rather wallow. I have no idea why. Clearly wallowing hasn’t made them happy or they wouldn’t feel the need to wallow.

I have this theory that people like this think that their attitude is something that they are helpless victims of, rather than it being a conscious choice. I would hate to feel that helpless. Yes, I struggle with depression, and there are days when I feel like crying, but for the most part, I spin my world rather than letting it spin me.

Your existence should not be a problem to overcome. There is so much to see and do and learn and be inspired by! There’s so much beauty and wonder! Life is such a gift and such an opportunity. It shouldn’t be squandered.

It’s delightful to be in a relationship that isn’t covered with a wet wool blanket of despair. My husband can put a positive spin on just about anything. If he sees dog poop in the road, he’ll say, “Thank goodness the dog wasn’t run over!”

I love that about him. So, so much. Life is good.


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Holy Group Grumble, Batman!

Turns out that bats speak to each other as individuals.

Every time we learn something new about the natural world, it makes me realize just how little we know. Given that fact, it’s awfully arrogant of us to act so superior and proprietary. How can we walk through this world with such confidence and act upon it with such haughty indifference when we don’t really have a clue as to what’s going on beyond our ken or how our actions impact said goings on?

Take, for example, this article in the Smithsonian, entitled “Researchers “Translate” Bat Talk. Turns Out, They Argue—A Lot

It seems that thanks to some voice recognition software, researchers have determined that bats not only speak to each other as individuals, using different tones of voice, but they also have matched up certain sounds to certain actions. Predictably, they argue about food and their positions within the sleeping cluster, and invasions of personal space. But they also discuss males that make unwanted mating advances. In other words, they’re not all that different from us.

Except they’re willing to poop in my attic. So there’s that.


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On Being Good at Your Job When No One Is Watching

I was feeling proud and all in the zone…

In order to be a bridgetender, you have to be able to function well with little or no supervision. You have to be the type of person who takes a job seriously, believes in maintaining standards, and is very self-motivated. I am that person. And I happen to consider being left alone to be its own reward.

The downside is that praise is very thin on the ground. If you thrive on attaboys and kudos, this is not the job for you. Taking pride in having done the job well has to be enough.

The other day, I had five different vessels headed toward my bridge from both directions, and at different rates of speed. I also had vehicle traffic backed up for miles, and dozens of pedestrians and cyclists in a wide array of moods. Some were being cooperative, and some were not.

On days like that, opening the bridge is like being the conductor of a very unruly orchestra. There are a variety of moving parts to consider. When do you start your opening so as to back up the minimum amount of traffic? How do you keep all of the traveling public safe? How do you time it so all the vessels get through at once without crashing into each other or damaging the bridge?

Communication is key. You need to make sure all the vessels know what the plan is. Sometimes you have to be firm and tell a captain that he’ll have to wait for the next opening. (We try to keep our openings less than 10 minutes long to avoid traffic delays.)

That particular opening went off without a hitch. Everyone was appreciative and all went well. At the end of it, I did a little dance and thought, “DAMN, I’m good!!!”

I was feeling proud and all in the zone, and mighty pleased with myself. I was thinking that it was a shame that no supervisors were around to see the pure artistry that was that opening. I felt great.

And then the phone rang.

It was my supervisor, saying someone just called and complained because I had made him wait because I was trying to avoid a long opening that would back up traffic for miles.

Sigh. And just like that, my head shrank back down to normal size.

But it was good while it lasted.


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Letter Boarding

It’s nice to be reminded that someone is on your side.

My husband and I have gotten into a delightful habit. We have a changeable sign in the kitchen, with an array of 1 inch tall letters, and every once in a while, one of us will write a positive affirmation thereon. No, I won’t tell you what we say to each other. Get your own sign. But it’s along the lines of, “You rock.” “Thank you for…. (fill in the blank)”.

It’s always fun to come home after a particularly hard day and see something in black and white that reminds me that someone is on my side. It also is a great way to get yourself into the habit (if you weren’t there already) of thinking of positive things to say to your partner, and actually articulating those thoughts.

None of us are mind readers. Communication is the key to a good relationship. There’s nothing more irritating than hearing someone say, “She knows I love her.”

Maybe she does, but what’s wrong with saying it? Why keep your positivity to yourself? It’s not some pot of gold that you have to hoard. Share the wealth. It will come back to you tenfold.

Letter Board

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Writing into a Void

It’s hard, writing to someone with dementia.

Today is the 93rd birthday of a beloved aunt, one of my favorite people in the whole world. Unfortunately, she’s in a nursing home 3000 miles away. Even if I were to go visit, she doesn’t even remember who I am most of the time, such is the level of her dementia. The last thing I want to do is upset or confuse her. I’ve stopped calling her for that very reason. My last call left her agitated and unhappy. She couldn’t understand why I couldn’t visit her, even though I may as well have been a stranger.

So I write her letters and send her some chocolates. She adores chocolate. It’s one of the million things we have in common. I hope she can still eat it. I suspect the nursing home staff are always happy to see my packages.

It’s hard, writing to someone who hasn’t responded to you in any way in about 5 years. I don’t even know if she actually receives what I send. Her primary caretaker has taken a disliking to me for some reason, even though we’ve never met. She told me that my letters are all about me, and she finds that annoying, and therefore stopped giving me the updates, that I long for, years ago.

Of course my letters are about me. It’s the only frame of reference that I have. It’s not like I can ask her what’s new in her bedridden world. The question would go unanswered. It’s like trying to communicate into a black hole. My own voice doesn’t even echo back to me, and hers is long gone.

So, in my letters, I reminisce about things she and I used to do together. I tell her a joke that I know she would have really found funny, once upon a time. I tell her she is not forgotten. I tell her she’s my favorite person. I tell her I’m now married, and happy, and I’ve written a book, and I have three dogs. The person I used to know would have been glad to hear these things. I also send her pictures.

Writing to her these days brings tears to my eyes, because I know that the person that I love so much is already gone in so very many ways. But I’ll continue to write into the void, for the love of the aunt who meant so much to me, and because I want her to know she isn’t forgotten, even though she’s forgotten me.

More than anything, I want to hear her tell me she’s proud of me. But as I drop each package in the mailbox, I know that isn’t going to happen. Never again. And that leaves a black hole in my heart.


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