What I Know about You

Howdy stranger. Even if you are a regular reader of this blog, chances are I’ve never met you. Even so, there are things that I know about you with complete certainty.

  • You have value. (We all do.)

  • You are capable of learning new things. (And there’s so much to choose from!)

  • You are capable of change (even if you don’t enjoy it).

  • You know things that I do not. (We could learn from each other.)

  • You have interesting stories to tell (even if you may not be good at telling them).

  • There’s more to you than meets the eye. (We’re all complex.)

  • You are a survivor, by virtue of the fact that you are right here, right now. (Yay!)

  • You are curious, or you wouldn’t be reading. (You can’t deny it.)

  • We have something in common. (Here we are, after all.)

  • There’s no one else exactly like you on earth. (Isn’t it great?)

  • There are things we would disagree about. (I think that’s exciting.)

  • You can imagine me, here, at my keyboard, just as I can imagine you, there, looking at these words. (See? We have a connection.)

  • You have good taste in blogs. (Okay, so I might be a little biased on this point.)

This is just the tip of the iceberg. I’m sure there are a million other fascinating things about you. I just thought I’d tell you a few, in case no one else had in a while.

The fact that I can say these things, without hesitation, about every single person who reads this post, gives me hope for humanity.  It’s a connection. Even if you are the most despicable human on earth (I suspect you aren’t, by the way), we have these things. It’s a starting point. We ought to be able to build from here.

So as you get out there and have a nice day, ponder the fact that all this divisiveness is merely an illusion.

You're Awesome

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The Cultural Iceberg

I took the picture below at the Highline Heritage Museum. It’s really a densely packed topic, and I love how they have simplified it in a nice graphic display. I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

They prefaced this image by saying that about 10 percent of most icebergs are visible above the surface, and that culture is the same way. There’s a lot of culture that’s hidden beneath the surface. Here are some of the cultural encounters I’ve had.

  • Body Language. In Turkey, raising your eyebrows means no. Once I mastered that, I was able to fend off many aggressive salesmen. But it never came naturally to me.

  • Personal Space. When I lived in Mexico, I never quite got used to how “in your face” people preferred to be. I’m sure I came off as rather distant and cold.

  • Self. I once dated a Maori, and his extended family was continually in his house, for weeks at a time. That would drive me nuts. I need my “me time”. I can’t be myself when I’m surrounded by so many people, but he didn’t feel like himself when he was alone.

  • Time. I’ve long been fascinated by the Aboriginal Australian sense of time, but try as I might, I can’t grasp it.

  • Animals. I’ve had many friends from many cultures who are horrified that I allow my dog in my house.

  • Expectations. A Hindu friend of mine once told me that we Americans expect to be happy, and are constantly disappointed when we aren’t. In other cultures, he said, no one expects to be happy, and they’re therefore pleasantly surprised when they are.

  • More Expectations. A friend from Spain once told me that we Americans always seem to think everything is solved with an “I’m sorry.” He was really surprised by that.

It’s amazing how different we are, deep down, one from another. The picture below really shines a light on that in a beautiful way. There’s more to individuals than the clothes that they wear and the accent they employ. It makes me really want to get to know people beneath the surface.

Cultural Iceberg

This may be a cultural thing, but I truly believe that an attitude of gratitude is what you need to get along. Read my book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

The View is Different from Venus to Mars

Gender roles and gender differences have always fascinated me. I’ve written about these subjects several times. Most recently, I wrote a post entitled What Do You Do? about the many steps women take to avoid sexual assault. Men rarely have to think about these things.

If you search my blog for posts about gender, or click on my feminism heading, dozens will come up. Some of these include: Sworn Virgins in Albania, Montenegro and Kosovo; Secure in My Manhood; Buying in to Gender Violence Phraseology; and Gender-Specific Jobs? Pffft.

Recently I had the opportunity to have a very interesting conversation with someone who has a unique insight into gender roles. To protect his privacy, we’ll call him Mr. Anonymous. As you will soon see, he has had the opportunity to contemplate this topic even more than the majority of us have. I learned a great deal from this conversation, and so I asked him if he’d be willing to be a guest author for today’s post. He was kind enough to agree. So without further ado, here’s Mr. Anonymous.

_____________________

Today I was in the grocery store looking for this herbal tea that I usually find in health-food stores. As often happens, a woman approached, needing something on a nearby shelf. I was far enough away for her to easily pass me, but she still felt the need to apologize and grab her item quickly. I assured her that she was not in the way. She replied, “That’s good.”

She said it like it was a relief. Here I was, needing a haircut, and I hadn’t shaved in several days, so I looked kind of rough. I felt rough in that store today. Yet this woman, who was about my age, saw a man looking at the items from afar and apologized for getting in my way when she had no reason to.

Not everyone is like that. There are rude types of people in all walks of life. But there is also an obvious pattern of male privilege that I experience every day. I was not born with this privilege, since I am trans person from female to male.

I have gotten some odd vibes from dudes working in hardware stores. As a man, I’m expected to know about tools and such, and I’m not really up to par on these things. So I have learned to do a little online research before I venture outward. Men don’t expect to have to explain things to another man. On the other hand, it’s assumed that a woman would need help. Women are almost treated like children. I find it insulting. I was often insulted before I started passing as a man.

I have seen butch hardcore lesbians more mechanically inclined than I am. Sadly, in the Deep South, there is a great deal of pressure to maintain the stereotypes of men and women. Because of this, I see transmen put on acts to be like the guys. (In other words, work on cars and be an ass.) Well, I think, “Ask Sally, that butch woman. She will help ya out with that transmission.”

I dress masculine and never had an impulse to carry a purse. I remember things I used to do without realizing that they were “what men do”. I was told that I walked like a man when all I was doing, as far as I was concerned, was walking. My sisters wore makeup. I tried against my will to do the female thing, but it just doesn’t cut the mustard with me. Just give me a big loose flannel shirt and some jeans and I am ready to walk out the door.

One of the most alarming things about being on the other side of the rainbow is the fear I create in women just by walking down the sidewalk. If a woman is walking alone in front of me, she picks up her pace. I can feel her fear. I slow down, take detours, or sit down if there are steps or a bench until I feel she is far enough away from me so that she can relax.

A part of me wants to tell her that I know how she feels. I was born female. I know that fear. I was someone who was looked at and hit on by strangers. I felt degraded by people asking to pay me for sexual favors. That was disgusting.

I remember, in my early twenties, riding the bus home from work every day. It wasn’t the best neighborhood. I’d be standing at a bus stop waiting for the bus and several times men stopped, thinking I was a street walker. They would try to get me to go with them. Even after telling them I was only waiting for the bus to go home, they still persisted until the bus showed up.

I remember men asking me if my husband is home when I had no husband. I would reply yes. I would paint the imaginary husband as some rough around the edges redneck that didn’t take any BS. That was my life in Louisiana in my younger years.

I was not brought up and treated as male because I was born female. It’s most heartbreaking to me that women are often raised to be so passive and molded into being the shadow of men. They shouldn’t feel the need to apologize and get out of my way.

On the other hand, when I was seen as a woman, women would treat me quite rudely. I guess it has something to do with the pecking order or something. I don’t know. I never understood it. But wow, those same types of women became passive and apologetic once that they saw me as a man.

People make different assumptions about men and women. As a woman, if I told people I had bought a power-tool, I was always asked why. As a man, I can say the same thing and I get an OK.

As a man, I can add my input to conversations without being contradicted. Women get contradicted no matter how right they are. Many men do not want to be intimidated by the intelligence of women.

I am not a very social person, but I observe and feel compassionate about the issue of gender roles that are forced upon people. How many female geniuses in history, prodigies even, have been passed up and never given the chance? Women are half of humanity, lest we forget.

Evolution seems to be in the favor of men more than women because men are physically stronger. Men use that strength to their advantage. The bad ones belittle women because those women do not have the strength to physically defend themselves. (Although in fairness, some women will rip a dude a new ass. Even after years of my being on hormones, these same strong women could whoop my ass easily.)

Generally speaking, though, that feeling of power can bring out the worst in a man. Because of this, women are conditioned to be less, be passive, obey, and act like perfect good girls.

Sometimes I wonder if I am the shadow or if I am casting the shadow. It can be confusing. I might go to a bar and have a drink or go home and sip on hot tea. Either way, I’d like to be respected as a human first. But if I realize I am making someone feel like a shadow, I will move out of the way so they can feel the sun. That applies to all the women who have apologized to me when they had no reason to.

Everyone should be entitled to simply be respected as a person. It should be that easy. But it’s not.

Venus Mars

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Culture Shock Light

Having travelled to 22 countries, I have come to expect a certain amount of culture shock. In fact, I kind of look forward to it. It’s half the fun. I enjoy having my perspectives challenged, and it’s exciting to see how I’ll react to being thrust out of my comfort zone.

As strange as this may sound, I tend to struggle most with this when visiting our neighbor to to the north: Canada. I spent a great deal of time pondering this as I drove up to Vancouver from Seattle recently.

Of all the countries in the world, I tend to assume that Canada is the most like the US.  And we do have a lot in common. But there are some extraordinary differences as well, and because we are so similar, those differences are all the more jarring to me.

Even the sights are “same same, but different.” They have Starbucks and IKEA and Safeway and all those familiar brands you come to expect. But interspersed with those things are these other places that I’m never sure about. What do they sell? I dunno.

And then there are those unexpected turns of phrase that suddenly make you feel like you’re speaking two different languages.

“That’s me done.”

“Huh?”

“That’s. Me. Done. With lunch. I can’t eat any more.”

“Oh.”

Many of the traffic signs are identical to ours, except when they aren’t. And what’s with the flashing green lights at some intersections, but not others? I actually had to Google that so as not to get myself killed. Apparently it means something different, depending upon which province you are in. That would never fly in the US.

The people in Canada seem to have held on to a certain courtesy, dignity, tolerance, cooperation and decorum that Americans have shed as if it were dead skin. We must seem like the crazy relatives that you only subject yourself to at weddings and major holidays. The rest of the time, you just shake your head and sigh.

(And before you mention this in the comments, I realize that in order to even write this post I have to make some sweeping generalizations. I get that no two people are alike. But I think this is an interesting path of inquiry, however unscientific it may be.)

The biggest difference between our two countries, I think, is one of awareness. I’d be willing to bet that most Americans can go years, decades, without giving Canada a thought. I wonder how many of us can even find Canada on a map. (I bet I could get an answer via Google, but I’d be too ashamed, I suspect, of the results.)

On the other hand, Canadians are painfully aware of us. They read our media. They watch PBS. The ravings of our current president impact them quite a bit. Most Canadians think about us every single day. So there’s that.

The impression that I get is that Americans assume they are envied by everybody, including Canadians. But in fact, from talking to the people I’ve met, most Canadians are befuddled by our pride in our military might, our rampant patriotism, our greed, and our distrust of our own government.

Canadians have a great deal more social support, and don’t seem to question the importance of it. They would be shocked if they had to pay a doctor. They are confident in their single payer system, and really don’t understand why we struggle with this concept.

I absolutely love visiting Canada, but I think I need to stop being surprised when I’m reminded I’m not home. I need to let Canada be Canada, and stop trying to force it into my little American box. Because let’s face it: At this time in our history, why on earth would they want to be there in the first place?

Canada_and_USA_Flag

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It’s Normal to be One of a Kind

Many of us, especially when we’re young, try desperately to “fit in”. We want to be like our peers. We don’t want to be an outcast or an oddball. It feels much safer to graze with the herd rather than blaze one’s own trail.

It’s also quite common for us to pigeonhole other people; fit them into nice, neat little cubby holes so we don’t have to make much effort to get to know them as individuals. If you’re that religion, you’re violent. If you’re that skin color, you’re lazy. If you are from that country, you can’t be trusted. (This is such a common habit that you most likely filled in the blanks regarding which religion, skin color or country I was referring to. Let that sink in for a minute, because it’s really sad.)

Here’s the problem with all of the above: We are all one of a kind. Unless you are an identical twin, no one on the planet has the exact same DNA that you have. And even twins have different life experiences, and that shapes them over time.

We have all lived different lives. We’ve seen different parts of the world. We’ve experienced different tragedies and triumphs. We’ve loved and lost and learned and laughed and cried, each in our own ways.

A very, very rough estimate tells me that the number of people born each second on this planet is about 2. So there might be someone in the world who was born the same second that you were. (Actually, by my admittedly rough calculation, one human is born every 0.576 seconds, so you may even have your second all to yourself. It could happen.) But the odds that you and your second-mate, if you have one, will both die at the same second, unless the whole world explodes, is pretty slim. So it’s safe to say that no one, no one will experience the exact same span of history that you will.

And then, if you start comparing favorite colors, career paths, place of birth, politics, and whether you prefer chunky peanut butter or smooth… well, you can just imagine what a rare individual you are! You are truly one of a kind. And I think that’s wonderful.

My question is, why are we so loathe to celebrate our differences, in spite of the overwhelming evidence that they exist?

Today, as you walk through your unique life, look at the people around you, and revel in their individuality. And take a moment to appreciate yourself for the miracle that you are. Vive la différence!

You are a gift!

gift

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Self-Image is All About Perspective

Since moving to Seattle, my self-image has drastically changed. When I was in Florida, I was usually the most radically liberal, open-minded and adventurous person in the room. When I talked about the environment, people would roll their eyes. When I went out of my way to recycle something, I’d be scoffed at. When I said I approved of gay marriage, people were horrified. The fact that I often travelled alone was considered scandalous.

Here in Seattle, on the other hand, I actually appear to be relatively conservative. When I mentioned that in fact I did not want to rid the entire city of cars, I was met with stunned silence the other day. When I asked a question about composting, I was looked at as if I had a single digit IQ. (As in, “How is it that you don’t already know this?”) People have lifestyles here that I’d never even contemplated before. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s just new to me.) And when I was too shy to enter a club until my friend arrived, she told me I was old fashioned.

I also never thought of myself as a tomboy in Florida. Maybe it’s because in the land of shorts and t-shirts, it’s hard to stand out as particularly androgynous. Here, I’ve been told by a surprising number of people that I’m not girly. Here I am at 51, trying to incorporate this fact into my emotional resume. It’s a strange feeling, albeit true to the very marrow of my bones.

It seems that one’s self-image depends a great deal upon one’s environment. If you’re a baby swan and you’re surrounded by other baby swans, it would never occur to you that you might be considered an ugly duckling. So, how much of your self-image is actually SELF? Something to think about.

Another thing to think about is why do we care? Why do we compare ourselves to others? What difference do our differences make? I have to admit that it’s a hard habit to break, though.

selfImage-02
[Image credit: quantumphysicsofbeliefs.com]

The Zen of the Pottery Wheel

I took a pottery class this semester at the local community college, and I loved it. It went by way too fast. I did pick up some pottery skills, but I’m using the word “skill” in its very broadest sense here. At best, I can be considered part of the primitive school. But the most important thing is that I had a wonderful time.

I also learned a great deal about things way beyond pottery. I wasn’t expecting that. I am now convinced that pottery should be classified not only as art, but also as therapy, philosophy, physical education, and management. All these things come into play in the studio.

Here are a few things I learned that I can apply to life in general:

  • If everyone wedged clay every day, there would be peace on earth. In order to get the air bubbles out of clay so you work won’t explode in the kiln, you have to pound it, throw it, basically beat it within an inch of its life. There’s no greater stress reducer. You can’t possibly feel frustrated once you’ve wedged some clay.
  • Everything comes out better when you remember to breathe. When nothing is going right with my pottery, if I do a quick body check, I usually discover that I’m tense and holding my breath. Breathing lets the energy flow through your body. Breathing is good.
  • Listen to your inner voice. This one I’ll probably always struggle with, but I’ve found that when my little voice goes, “time to stop messing with that pot,” it is, in fact, time to stop messing with that pot. Any more attempts at perfection will most likely lead to disaster, like accidentally caving in a wall or getting the clay so wet it turns into a glob.
  • Be patient with yourself. Try as you might, you’re not always going to have a good day. Some days are for ash trays, other days are for vases. And that’s okay.
  • Effort isn’t always obvious. One thing the movie Ghost did not make clear is that throwing pots on a pottery wheel actually takes a lot more muscle than you’d think! So next time you buy something from a potter, don’t grouse at the price. Pottery is hard work.
  • One man’s crap is another man’s masterpiece. It always amazed me that some of the most talented potters in the class were the most critical of their own work. I would kill to be able to produce some of the things they were throwing away. And conversely, some of the stuff I created could only be loved by me, and I’m fine with that.
  • It’s important to be creative. Pottery class fed my soul. It allowed me to exercise my imagination. It gave me something to be proud of. It gave me a sense of satisfaction that I can’t experience anywhere else.
  • Take a break. I would often get so deep in the zone that hours would pass by without my realizing it. And those were hours when my 50 year old body remained in basically the exact same position. I’d sometimes get so stiff I could barely make it to my car. Not good. It’s important to stand up and walk around every now and then.
  • Know when you’ve been beaten. Like I said above, you’re not going to always have a good day. Sometimes you’re going to have a really horrible day. Times like that, it’s probably better to walk away and try again tomorrow, rather than continuing to make mud pies while you gnash your teeth. That’s not quitting. That’s knowing yourself and being realistic.
  • It’s okay for things to turn out differently than expected. I’ve yet to have a pot turn out exactly the way I planned. At first that really disappointed me. But once I learned to let go of the steering wheel a little bit, I let in the ability to be delightfully surprised now and then, and that’s a great feeling.
  • It’s easier to talk to people when you can find some common ground. I actually took this class in the hopes of making friends that I could hang out with outside of class. That didn’t happen, unfortunately, although I met a lot of people I would have loved that to happen with. But I made some in class friends with whom I had some really amazing conversations. Art is a great ice breaker. It allows people to be different yet have a launch point from which to communicate. It also reminded me that I’m likable, and that kept the loneliness at bay. That has value, too.
  • Sometimes you don’t know best. Silly me. I would start out with an idea of how I wanted a pot to look, but clay often has a mind of its own. The harder I tried to force it to my will, the more it would resist, and that was an exercise in futility. I’m still working on this, but I’ve discovered that if you listen to the clay, it will often guide you toward something amazing.
  • Differences are beautiful. Every single student in that class had different ideas, different styles, different quirks. I was constantly in awe of what got produced in that studio. I could never have produced their stuff, and they could never have produced mine. Every single thing was one of a kind. Isn’t that amazing?
  • Keep track of things. At various times I’d have about 10 different projects going at once. Some were works in progress. Some were drying and waiting to be fired in the kiln. Some were waiting to be glazed. Some were cooling. It would be easy to lose track of everything. It’s important to take notes. It’s even more important to pay attention.
  • People can be really, really cool in a variety of ways. There were a lot of cool people in that class. My professor was the coolest one of all. I want to be her when I grow up. But everyone was special. Everyone had qualities that I admired. Everyone touched me in a different way. Something about the atmosphere there allowed people to be free to be themselves, and I love that.

If you ever get a chance to take a class that allows you to spread your wings in the creative realm, I highly recommend it!

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Revel in the Differences

I went through this period in my life where my family was so poor that all we had to eat was a bag of potatoes someone had given my mother. No oil to fry them with, even, so my mother baked them. To this day I rarely can bring myself to eat a baked potato. It seemed like that situation lasted for years, but it couldn’t have, surely.

That experience definitely made me appreciate variety in food. I love almost any food you can name. I enjoy going to opposite extremes from one day to the next. Lasagna today, Chinese tomorrow. It’s all good. As long as it’s different from yesterday, I’m happy.

I don’t get people who want everything to be the same. People who associate only with their own race, or expect people to have identical religious beliefs confound me. Why would you want to live in a monochrome world?

I was once told by a fundamentalist relative that because I hadn’t accepted Jesus Christ as my personal savior, I was going to go to hell. I responded, “If the only people in heaven have to look like you and think like you and believe like you and act like you, heaven must be a boring place indeed, and I’d rather not have to spend eternity there.”

I enjoy diversity. I like to be exposed to different points of view, different cultures, different flavors. It’s the differences that add spice to life. Man shouldn’t live on baked potato alone. It’s just not healthy.

potato

[Image credit: popsugar.com]