Active Shooter Drills: The New Duck and Cover

When these drills are conducted, the kindergarteners are just terrified.

Here’s everything you need to know about our warped American gun culture: When looking up statistics for the number of mass shootings in this country, I was actually relieved to discover that, according to this report in Statista, since 1982, these atrocities have only occurred in 38 states (plus Washington DC). We’re still horrified by these events, but we’re also becoming habituated to them.

Of course, Statista goes on to clarify that they’re only counting those shootings that were reported. They also note that, “since 2013, the source defines a mass shooting as any single attack in a public place with three or more fatalities, in line with the definition by the FBI. Before 2013, a mass shooting was defined as any single attack in a public place with four or more fatalities.” So the numbers are probably a bit low. Great.

They also point out that, of the 137 incidents considered, 13 of the worst mass shootings in the United States have occurred since 2015. The vast majority of the shooters in these incidents were white males, and since 2000, police have intercepted 351 active shooter incidents in the U.S. Until we call these events what they are, domestic terrorism, they’ll never be taken seriously by this government. But this government is hesitant to call white males terrorists. Or rapists. Or anything else, for that matter.

When I was in public school in the late 70’s, early 80’s, one time, one time, someone brought a knife into a classroom. It was a huge scandal. The kid didn’t even use it, and he wasn’t even in any of my classes, but it took me months to feel safe again after that. It just didn’t occur to anyone at the time to bring weapons onto school grounds. Well, except for that kid. He’s probably the CEO of some major corporation now.

Little did I know that those were the salad days of public education. I fell in the sweet spot between duck and cover and active shooter drills. I was never made to crawl under my desk in anticipation of nuclear annihilation or bloody death. Not once.

Nowadays, kids are subjected to those active shooter drills along with their totally whitewashed and historically inaccurate lessons. I often wonder how that is fundamentally changing this generation’s perspective. It’s sad to contemplate. My research on the topic broadened my worldview to the extent that it is resulting in three posts, of which this is the first.

According to this article, as of 2017, 95 percent of all public schools conduct active shooter drills. They can be as mild as just going through the motions of turning off lights and locking doors to the extreme of playing gunshot sounds over the loudspeakers while actors dressed as gunmen roam the halls. I don’t know about you, but that extreme end would seriously freak me out, and I’m 57. I can’t imagine how a 7-year-old would handle it. A kindergarten teacher told me recently that when these drills are conducted, she tries to keep the students calm, but they’re just terrified.

The article goes on to describe a study that was conducted by Georgia Tech regarding active shooter drills. Just by comparing the social media texts of community members from 90 days before a drill to 90 days after, they concluded that there is a 42 percent spike in anxiety and a 39 percent increase in depression for months afterward, and not just in the students. The teachers and parents were similarly impacted.

Frankly, I’m of the opinion that drills, as we Americans conduct them, don’t actually prepare you for any catastrophic event. They don’t empower you. Our drills teach fear and panic. When the stuff hits the fan, if you’ve been living in a state of constant, low-grade fear as politicians make us do, all bets are off. You get primal. And quite often you make poor decisions. Now, throw hundreds of small children into that mix, and you have chaos. I’ll be offering suggestions as to how to improve these drills in my third post.

But these drills, in their current format and cultural context, are nothing other than safety theater. They allow bureaucrats to give the impression that they’re doing something, when, if they really wanted to do something, they’d be advocating against weaponry, beefing up security, and insisting upon more mental health professionals on staff. Instead, we want to look like we’re doing something, so we do something. Not the right thing. Not the reasonable thing. Not the thing that makes an actual difference. But, hey, we are doing something.

While wondering about the psychological effects of active shooter drills, I began to think about the duck and cover drills that, thank God, had just stopped being commonplace a year or two before I went to school. I really feel sorry for those who had to experience them. I probably would have been that child who said, “Why do you think our desk will protect us from a bomb? How stupid is that?” And then I would have done what I was told, because I may have had a big mouth, but I was still a good kid.

I happen to be a member of a Facebook group that is mostly comprised of women from the duck and cover era, so I decided, out of curiosity, to ask them what their experience was like. I did this a about a year ago. I don’t know why it took me so long to write this blog post. Perhaps I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t prepared for the amount of insight I would gain from these women. (I had good intentions of getting this done. I lugged about 150 printed out pages of their comments back and forth to work for months. My backpack is so heavy that it triggers my car to insist on a passenger side seat belt, such is the weight of my unfinished projects.)

My post to that group said the following: “I am just young enough to have missed those cold war bomb drills that children used to have to do. You know. Duck and cover, because your desk will save you. (Sheesh.) I was wondering how many of you remember doing that. What did you think as a child? Do you think it changed the way you view the world? Was there common knowledge that these drills were an insane waste of time back then, or was there a general buy-in of this concept?

Those questions must have hit a nerve, because I got 400 replies. I wasn’t expecting that. No two people are the same, so naturally there were a variety of ways that these kids processed the duck and cover experience.

I’d say that about 55 percent were either bored silly by these drills, thinking of it as a nice break from math class, and/or too clued in to think that duck and cover would do any good at all. At the other end of the spectrum, about 30 percent were seriously freaked out by the process. (I’m quite sure I would have been in this group, even if I had been clued in.) The rest seemed to have been confused by it all, and since the adults around them weren’t telling them anything rational or understandable or true, they didn’t know what to think. That’s a really unpleasant state for a child to be in.

The 50’s and 60’s were a high stakes time to be a kid in America. Most of that generation had no expectations of living to adulthood. During the cold war, the brinkmanship displayed made them feel like the inmates were running the asylum. And when they heard about Khrushchev pounding his shoe on the table, the kind of thing that really gets a child’s attention, that provided them with all the confirmation they needed that the adults in charge were crazy. (The shoe incident made such an impression on me, a decade after the fact, that to this day I could swear I’d seen footage of it, but no such footage exists. Isn’t that strange?)

That generation’s anxiety reached its peak during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Many of children concluded that the Russians hated them personally and wanted to kill them, but they didn’t understand why. They came by their reactions honestly. Here is some of the propaganda of the era that they were treated to every single day:

These kids also bore witness to the assassinations of Martin Luther King and both Kennedys. And, lest we forget, many of these children were growing up in the south and dealing with the KKK, segregation, and an utter lack of human rights as well, so they felt more anxiety from terrorists within the country than they did from communists a half a world away.

What follows are several points that the amazing women in my Facebook group proffered for your consideration. I’ll paraphrase the comments and avoid specifics so that I don’t have to track people down to get permission to quote them. (Sorry, ladies.)

Duck and Cover Drills came in a variety of forms. As the name implies, many students had to crawl under their desks with their hands protecting their necks and/or the backs of their heads. Others were ushered into hallways to hunker down in rows, facing the walls or the banks of lockers. Some went down into the creepy, dirty basements of their schools. One woman reported that her class had to walk single file, with the teacher at the head, and she’d drop them off at their houses, one by one by one. (I’m assuming this was a small town.) Not only was that hard on the teacher, but it must have been creepy for the last group of children on the route, thinking about radiation raining down upon them with every step they took. Location, location, location, as the saying goes.

There seemed to be a wide range of communication or lack thereof, about these drills. Some kids were told entirely too much, in my opinion. Small children should not be shown videos of mushroom clouds and disintegrating buildings and melting bodies. Eight-year-olds shouldn’t memorize all the signs and symptoms of radiation poisoning or be instructed on the best ways to build and stock bomb shelters. All that should be the realm of adults.

On the other end of the spectrum, a lot of children were not told anything at all, and were left to draw their own, sometimes funny, sometimes horrifying conclusions, including the following:

  • “Fallout” meant things falling from the ceiling, and therefore climbing under their desks made perfect sense.
  • The Russians would come and take them from their parents and/or they’d never see their families again.
  • Bombs must not be much of a threat if the solution was to hide under a desk.
  • Every plane that flew over had the potential to kill them.
  • I don’t want to die crouching in a hallway.
  • While we do these drills in school, are the adults doing the same thing in the bomb shelters?
  • My parents will be blindsided unless they keep the radio on.
  • These floors are really dirty.
  • The boys are trying to look up my skirt.
  • At least we don’t have to freeze outside like we do for fire drills.
  • How will I find my family?
  • Walking home was scary, because if a plane flew over you didn’t have your desk to save you.
  • Some were scared for their parents because they didn’t have a teacher to keep them safe like the kids did.
  • The Communists or some vague enemy would break in any minute, and that would be the end.
  • They only practiced these drills at school, so school seemed dangerous.
  • One girl, whose school had them pressing their noses against a wall, thought that the paint must be strong if it could save her from the bomb.

Some children comforted themselves with the belief that nothing bad was going to ever happen to them because they lived in America and that was the safest, smartest, strongest place in the world. Others thought that since Russia beat us into space, they must be more militarily advanced. Those were likely the same children who went home and tried to build bomb shelters out of cardboard boxes in their back yards or basements. One brilliant girl even surrounded hers with lead pencils, because she had heard that lead would protect her.

In hindsight, many women were grateful for the honesty some adults were willing to provide. Some kids were told how painful their deaths might be, and actually found comfort in the idea that they were at ground zero and would die instantly. Photographs from Hiroshima made it clear that immediate death would be preferable. One woman remembers being grateful for just being sent home to be with her family during the Cuban Missile Crisis. At least that was honest.

And I found this quite interesting. It seems that nearly everyone was told that their location was a prime target. They lived near military bases. They lived near factories or power plants or big cities like Washington DC, New York, or Chicago. They lived near a transportation hub. In the heartland, the communists would target their farms to starve the country. And everyone in Florida, to this very day, knows that Cuba is only 90 miles away.

Everyone seemed to believe that they would be the first to go. No one stopped to think that Russia couldn’t bomb everywhere at once. If they could, there would be nothing left of this planet.

No matter what they thought, these kids did these drills because that’s what they were told to do. Unfortunately, they were told to do some very insane things. I’ll discuss that in my next post, The Insanity of Duck and Cover.

Special thanks to the women of the Facebook Group Crones of Anarchy!, for revealing so much about their duck and cover experiences. You guys are awesome!

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I Just Gave Myself the Willies

Have you ever heard of the Hidebehind?

Sometimes it’s fun to be scared. Scary movies are quite popular. Haunted houses can draw large crowds. It’s a rite of passage for many of us to sit around a campfire and tell ghost stories. Goosebumps seem like a primal reaction, and we often derive a quivering excitement from them.

It’s kind of cool to get your body to do something even when your head knows, logically, that it’s just a movie and you’re quite confident that someone is about to make you jump in this scene, and yet you still shriek when it happens. I look at that as the exact moment when my rational side surrenders in its wrestling match with my primal side, and I realize, without even a sliver of doubt, that I’m no longer driving this reactionary bus.

The Willies are fun until the moment after that moment. Full-on panic mode isn’t really that awesome. I have no idea why many of us, including me, insist on flirting with it, other than the fact that it is a huge relief when your rationality is restored and you can laugh at yourself again, albeit nervously.

The Willies are a creepy, crawly, jittery feeling, and all the more so because it seems that no one knows for sure exactly where the term comes from. I tend to trust etymology online, and that site says it came from “‘spell of nervousness,’ 1896, perhaps from the woollies, a dialectal term for ‘nervous uneasiness,’ probably in reference to the itchiness of wool garments.”

That explanation seems reasonable to me. But then, if you read this article, and this one, including the comments, you’ll discover that there are any number of plausible theories drifting around out there. I find that rather creepy. Where did you come from, Willie? Nobody knows.

Anyway, the thing that gave me the Willies on this day was an article entitled, “Family Discovers a Treehouse On Their Property But It Takes a Weird Turn”.

I read the headline, and I knew, I just knew, I shouldn’t read the article. I also knew that I would. And, oh joy, it comes with a creepy TikTok video that surely must be some sort of hoax. Surely. And yet…

But to make matters worse, the article introduces me to a mythical creature that I had never heard about before. It’s called the Hidebehind. According to folklore, it has been plaguing lumberjacks since at least the 19th century, which makes sense, as that was when lumberjacks still had plenty of densely-packed old growth forests to plunder.

Being a logger is a dangerous business. There are a lot of ways that you can die. A falling tree could crush you. You could bleed out from a nasty encounter with your own saw. You could get lost in the woods. A forest fire could overtake you. You could be attacked by a bear. Sometimes, lumberjacks would simply vanish, and no one would know what became of them. Under the circumstances, it’s no wonder this creature sprang from someone’s imagination and took hold in logging communities across America.

Have you ever been out in the woods, and you couldn’t shake the feeling that you were being watched? Then you turn around, and you see nothing. It gives me the shivers just thinking about it. That feeling in some long-ago lumberjack was probably the precise moment when the Hidebehind story was born.

According to Wikipedia, along with this article and this one, the Hidebehind is difficult to describe because you never actually get to see it. It must be skinny, because it can hide behind trees of almost any size, hence its name. If it finds you all alone in the forest, it slowly creeps up on you, from tree to tree, dancing ever closer, and then it pounces on you, eviscerates you with what one assumes are long claws, and it eats your entrails, either right on the spot or after it has dragged your body to its lair.

This would “explain” a lot of woodland disappearances. It would also cause loggers to be ever vigilant in a job that requires such a quality in order to survive. It would validate that creepy feeling that we all know so well,  and it would be a fun way to scare greenhorns half to death.

But even better, it’s a valid excuse to drink to excess, because the one thing all these stories agree upon is that the Hidebehind does not like the smell or taste of alcohol. Getting drunk will save you from certain death, it seems. I’ll take a double.

I love knowing the origins of a story. I wish I knew the origins of the Willies. I know they exist because I’ve felt them. I suspect they’ve been around since long before Homo Sapiens walked the Earth, and it wouldn’t surprise me if they were best friends with the Hidebehind.

The Hidebehind. Maybe.

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Spring Fever in the COVID Era

It’s more about the Fever and less about the Spring this year.

I just watched two people get into a shoving match on the sidewalk of my bridge. Apparently the masked one felt that the unmasked one had gotten too close. But now the cautious one just touched the incautious one with his hands. That was probably not the best idea.

I’ve also seen two women get into a shouting match over the last bag of flour at the grocery store. I thought they were going to throw down right on the spot. I beat a hasty retreat before the flour had a chance to fly.

I’ve had several absurd misunderstandings with friends on social media this past week. Some were a matter of me losing patience with ignorance that I’d normally let slide. In some cases I suspect alcohol was involved, and there’s no reasoning with that. Still others were the result of me shooting off my mouth and having to apologize afterward. It’s as if everyone’s nerves are on the surface of their skin.

This year’s spring fever is more about the fever and less about the spring. The usual excitement this time of year has turned into restlessness and frustration. Social distancing is turning into emotional distancing. People are really starting to lose the plot. I don’t know about you, but there’s only so much I can take.

We have to remember that we’re all afraid. Some of us fear for our lives, others fear for their livelihood. Many fear for both.

Many of us realize that the scary statistics only relate to confirmed cases, and not very many of us have been tested. Have you? I sure haven’t. That, and a lot of countries are under-reporting because they feel that the truth would make them look bad. And a lot of people are dying at home, and the health care system simply can’t keep track. No one really has a clue as to how flat the curve actually is.

No matter where you stand on the issue, one thing is certain: we all want this to be over. If only wishing could make it so. If only declarations from our so-called leaders would make COVID disappear. But there’s no happily ever after in our immediate future. This will not be a sprint or even a marathon. It will be a long, heavy slog.

We’re just going to have to make an extra effort to be patient with one another. We’re going to have to avoid shoving matches and flour fights. We need to engage in radical self-care. We need to realize that there’s no force on earth that will make the deniers do the same, so we’ll just have to give them a wide berth and hope that the fittest will survive.

And for those of us who feel we’re not coping by intestinal fortitude alone, there are resources out there, and I strongly urge you to take advantage of them. A longtime reader of this blog (Hi Lyn!) sent me a very useful link entitled COVID-19 and Your Mental Health, and it’s full of a ton of helpful advice and lists of organizations that are waiting to assist you. Please don’t hesitate to reach out.

We can do this. It may not be pretty and it definitely won’t be fun, but we can do this. I promise.

end-of-your-rope

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Ziplining

I mean, hoo! What a rush!

A few years ago, I was driving through Utah, and took a side trip to Provo, simply because I had always wanted to go ziplining. I was so excited. But on the big day, they cancelled my reservation, theoretically because it was too windy. (I strongly suspect that it was because I was their only customer for that time slot.) They said I could try again the next day, but I wasn’t going to be there. Provo isn’t exactly a tourist hot spot. I spent the night in a shabby little hotel room, all alone, feeling sorry for myself.

So I was even more excited for our trip to Alaska, because we planned to go ziplining in Denali National Park. This time, I wasn’t going alone, although my husband had reservations about the reservations. (Sorry. Had to.)

What I hadn’t counted on was the fact that ziplining was a breeze compared to getting up to the platform itself. To do that, you had to cross rope bridges with wooden slats that seemed like they were a half a mile apart. My husband urged me to watch where I was stepping, but I could not look down or I would have lost it. So I felt for each slat with my foot before shifting my weight. And with every step I took, I was saying, “You can do this.”

Because it was a very near thing. I could feel a panic attack looming on the horizon. But rationally, what could I have done? Giving up would have meant turning around and going back over the same bridges that were freaking me out in the first place. So, onward.

You see, I have a very weird fear of heights. I knew ziplining wouldn’t bother me at all, because I was hooked into a ton of safety equipment, and the potential for disaster was pretty much out of my hands. But the ladder… Oh, I could screw up that ladder. Yes, I was still hooked in, but I could have hurt myself very badly at any moment.

My fear of heights is more of a fear of my own ability to cause my accidental death or dismemberment. Therefore, I can rock climb while roped in, but I can’t stand at the edge of a cliff. I can rappel like a demon, but if I walk across a catwalk with low railings I feel sick.

Yeah, I know. Go figure.

There were seven ziplines on this course, and each one was more exhilarating than the last. I mean, hoo! What a rush! But those bridges were the stuff of nightmares for me. Below are some photos and a video of my experience. I hope you like them.

Would I go ziplining again? Yes, indeed. Without hesitation. But it depends on how you get there. My husband found one that requires you to walk from one looped rope to the next, over a crevasse. No thanks. I want to live.

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What Would You Do If You Were Not Afraid?

What an intriguing question.

I listen to NPR every chance I get, even if I only have a spare minute or two. You never know what fascinating topics will be discussed. So it was the other day, when I tuned in to hear a man say that he makes a point of asking people, “What would you do if you were not afraid?”

What an intriguing question. I instantly regretted that I wouldn’t be able to continue listening, because I was just about home. Sadly, I don’t know which program it was or who was speaking. (Possibly Speaker’s Forum. I’m not sure.) I only heard him say that several people had replied that they probably wouldn’t be trapped in their miserable jobs if they weren’t so afraid. That made me sad.

The question stuck with me. I’ve been ruminating over it for several days now. It’s made me realize how often people are ruled by fear.

People remain in toxic relationships out of fear. Fear that leaving might result in abuse, or fear of being alone.

Others don’t take risks or challenge themselves in any way, for fear of failure. Because of that, they never realize their full potential.

Women often remain silent for fear of not being taken seriously.

Men often do not show their emotions for fear of being considered weak.

We don’t reach out to others for fear of being rejected.

Many people fear strangers because they’ve been taught to hate, or have never taken the time to get to know someone who is different from themselves.

Most of us fear being pushed out of our comfort zones, and so we are hesitant to test our own boundaries.

Many of us don’t experience life because we’re too busy being afraid of death.

It’s very easy to be ruled by fear, but it means you’ll have to settle for being enslaved by it. And the funny thing is, on those occasions when we manage to push past our fears, we often wind up wondering what we were so afraid of in the first place.

The scariest thing I’ve ever done was to move 3100 miles away from home, to a place I’d never been, where I knew no one. But it also turned out to be the best thing I’ve ever done.

So, dear reader, what would you do if you were not afraid?

Inside-Out-Fear-inside-out-37497984-960-600

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The View is Different from Venus to Mars

“If I realize I am making someone feel like a shadow, I will move out of the way so they can feel the sun.”

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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Space Invaders

Sometimes they really are out to get you.

I wanted to write a creepy post for Halloween, and I asked several friends for suggestions. Every single one of them, without exception, said I should write about Trump. That, in itself, is pretty darned scary. But I think we are so used to being scared by him that it’s hard to feel the fear anymore. So I decided to write the below, instead.)

In the house I bought, there are dozens of large dents on both steel exterior doors, and on one wooden bedroom door as well. The only thing the previous owner would tell me was that there was “an incident” involving a tenant and her boyfriend. The fact that he would not go into detail leaves my imagination to run wild.

Given that these are sturdy storm doors, whatever blunt object was used to do this damage must have been heavy, and the sound must have been loud and terrifying. No person in his right mind does a thing like that. And if the damage to the bedroom door happened at the same time, then the perpetrator gained entry. The thought of that makes the hair on the back of my neck stand straight up.

Whether we are conscious of it or not, we all walk around in this bubble of security, and when it is popped, it’s beyond frightening. It challenges your sense of reality. It makes you feel as if there’s nowhere to hide. The reason most of us reside in this bubble is that knowing that it’s all an illusion would make it impossible to cope.

I used to work the graveyard shift on this tiny little bridge with an office the size of a closet. I was surrounded by windows for increased visibility when I had to do a bridge opening, but that basically meant that I was in a goldfish bowl, and anyone who wanted to mess with me could easily do so. Needless to say, I kept the blinds closed whenever possible. But that also meant I couldn’t see what was going on out on the street.

It was a very isolated job, which normally suits me just fine. Even though I was in a metropolitan area, at 3 a.m. it often felt as if I were the only person on the planet. And when the fog rolled in, that tiny room seemed like a coffin. (People with claustrophobia didn’t last in that job for very long.)

Late one night, I was on duty, and two teenage boys started pounding on the door. (Isn’t it always teenage boys? They should be sent to roam in packs on some remote Pacific island from the age of 14 to 25. I truly believe our crime rate would plummet.)

I nearly soiled myself. I peeked out the blinds and said, “What the #### do you want?”

The ringleader says, “Let us in. We want to see you do a bridge opening.”

My reply, of course, was, “F*** off, before I call the cops.”

But they continued to pound on the door and rattle the knob. (Years later, I can’t get the image of that rattling doorknob out of my head.) It occurred to me that there was just a thin film of bullet-resistant glass between me and these nut jobs, and the stuff was feeling pretty darned flimsy at that moment. And out there on my bridge, no one would hear me scream. Also, by the time the cops got there, well, it would be bad. (And by the way, the cops never showed up. As per usual.)

Eventually they left without getting in, or getting me. But then I got to spend the rest of the shift worrying that they might have vandalized my car. (They hadn’t. Not that time. They just threw the heavy duty trash can at the foot of the bridge into the river. )

Oh, and did I mention that in order to use the bathroom on that bridge you had to go across the street to the other building? Wonderful.

My point is, the reason the thought of the boogeyman in your closet or the thing under the bed or the clown in the storm drain is so unsettling for most of us is that these things violate your bubble of security. Clearly, they are up to no good. They rattle your doorknob. They shake your foundations.

And that’s completely understandable. Because sometimes you’re not being paranoid. Sometimes they really are out to get you.

Happy Halloween.

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What I Thought America Meant

When I was little, I was taught that I lived in the greatest country in the entire world. I thought we set the best example, and that based on that example, other countries would aspire to be better, and someday the whole world would be just as wonderful as we were.

Everyone would be free. There would be no war. Every individual would have equal opportunities. The world would be one big safe, happy, teddy bear of a place. I was so proud. I felt so lucky to be an American.

To me, America meant generosity, compassion, justice, safety, equality, freedom, dedication, love, and integrity.

If you had told me back then that I’d become increasingly ashamed over time, I’d have been pretty darned disappointed. Disgusted is the word, actually. And even horrified every once in a while. (Simply because I can’t work up the energy to maintain horror for long periods.)

How must the rest of the planet view us when we say things like domestic and gang violence are no longer valid reasons for asylum? What happened to “Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free”?

And when did we become okay with children being yanked away from their parents? Do we think those traumatized children will grow up admiring us for that? Do we think those children deserve punishment? Guilt by association?

We were supposed to be the poster child for human rights. Are we? When our president shakes hands with Kim Jong-Un, the worst human rights abuser currently alive, and says he’ll “probably have a very good relationship” with him, it doesn’t do much for that image.

I also thought we’d be the saviors of the world. But we are one of its worst polluters, biggest consumers, and we live in a culture of selfishness and waste. We can’t even hold on to our national parks, which is an embarrassment, because we were the first country to even conceive of them. The planet cries out for us to take climate change seriously, even as some of them are sinking into the sea, and instead of setting an example, we back out of the Paris Accord.

Apparently we value the profits of gun manufacturers more than the lives of our children. We allow the very worst of our law enforcement officers to become murderers without any real consequences. We step over our homeless veterans in the streets. And we don’t seem to think anyone has a right to health care.

We elected a man who brags about grabbing pussies, thinks that white supremacy is acceptable, and uses Twitter to lie without remorse. We take great strides to make it difficult to vote, but that’s probably a waste of energy when no one can seem to be bothered to do so anyway. We spend more time keeping up with the Kardashians than we do with the real current events that actually impact our day to day lives.

We have become fat and bloated by our laziness and greed. We flaunt our hate. We exaggerate our fear. We demonize education and journalism. We are not who we said we would be.

I once told a cousin that America is an experiment. You’d think I had peed in his Post Toasties. How dare I say that?

Well, Cuz, do you still think we are solid as a rock, unchanging, and will last forever? Do you really think that this thing we have become has staying power, above all other regimes that have come and gone throughout history? Are we a shining example of the best of humanity? Have we reached some bright pinnacle? Should everyone want to be just like us?

I wish I could be that little girl again, with the star spangled banner eyes. I wish I was full of optimism and hope for this country’s future. I wish I still thought I was one of the good guys.

But I have to ask: Are we becoming our best selves? Because if we can’t do better than this, if we don’t want to do better than this, then there’s really no hope. And that scares me.

Flag

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I Scared Someone

Imagine this: You are a woman, alone, jogging so early in the morning that the sun isn’t even awake yet. Heck, most of Seattle isn’t awake yet. It’s Saturday. You start to jog across a drawbridge when a car pulls into the bike lane behind you, a place where it has no business being. You look over your shoulder, feeling worried. The car slowly follows you.

Well, in this case, the jogger was in luck, because the driver was me. Driving slowly down the bike lane is the only way for me to get to my designated parking space when I work on this particular drawbridge. Of course, I couldn’t explain this to the jogger. By the time I got out of my car, she was long gone, as well she should have been. I’m sure I scared her half to death, and I feel terrible about that.

But at the same time, I thought, “Good on her for being hypervigilant.” In this crazy world, you need to err on the side of caution. Too much can go wrong.

I used to be offended, as a teenager, when security guards followed me in stores. I wasn’t a shoplifter, but how would they know that? Yeah, I was being profiled. But stores take a major financial hit because of shoplifters, so where does one draw the line?

Now I don’t take such things personally. I am actually grateful when someone puts me through an extra level of security, for their sake or for mine. Prevention is a good thing.

So, thank you, little old lady, for clutching your purse a little tighter when I walk past.

Thank you, cashier, for asking to see my I.D. when I want to pay by credit card.

Thank you, website, for making me answer security questions.

Thank you, neighbor, for using deadbolts on your doors.

Thank you, driver, for clicking your door locks when you see any human approaching your car.

Thank you, everyone, for taking safety seriously. If we do the little tiny things mentioned above, we’ll prevent crime. The less crime we have, the safer we will all feel.

It’s the propaganda put out by the NRA that we’re in a hyper-violent, Mad Max world that makes politicians find excuses to remove bans on silencers and semi-automatic weapons, and allows mentally ill people to stockpile an armory. It’s those fools who are getting us killed, not those of us who ask for I.D.

So in a strange way, being ever-so-slightly paranoid about your safety increases our safety in general, and reduces the insane belief that military-level weapons are a good idea for the general populous. Our world will never be 100 percent safe. If we own that and take minor precautions, we won’t have to take Mad Max-like ones in the future. Weird how that works.

So please keep clutching those purses! It’s not meant as an insult. I would argue that it’s actually a civic duty.

Stalked

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Flying for the First Time

I love birds. I love the attitude of crows, the energy of hummingbirds, the ostentatiousness of roosters, the menacing glare of raptors. I love that some have names like “Blue-Footed Booby” or “Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker”. That just makes me smile.

It fascinates me that different species build their homes in unique ways. Some nest in the hollows of trees, others weave their own. Some use mud. Still others burrow underground. Some even surround their nests with shiny objects. They have as many varieties of homes as humans do.

It’s also very cool that they have so many types of song. The morning birdsong here on the West Coast sounds nothing at all like the birdsong that I used to wake up to back East. I particularly like those birds that mimic other sounds. I think that shows an interesting sense of humor and/or an amazing ability to obfuscate.

My favorite bird is the Kookaburra, pictured below. They have intelligent eyes. Their beaks look too big for their heads. They have plump little bodies, like me. They are native to Australia, a country I’ve always wanted to visit. And I just like the name. Kookaburra. (I got to see one in a zoo once. I think we had a moment.)

I’ve known more than one person who is afraid of birds. I find that sad. Usually, if you don’t bother them, they won’t bother you. And while I have been momentarily freaked out when having to usher one out of my house, and Hitchcock’s The Birds is a scary movie, I guess my fascination with them is stronger than any anxiety.

I once wrote a post entitled Rete Mirabile, which describes how birds can stand on a snowy branch without freezing their little feet off. That’s impressive. It’s also amazing to watch a bird dive straight into the water from a great height without killing itself. And what’s not to love about something that’s related to dinosaurs? Don’t even get me started on the miracle of flight.

That leads me to the most spectacular thing about birds of all. Consider this: Every single bird (except the flightless ones, of course), has had to take a leap of faith once in their lives. What must it be like to fly for the first time? That moment when you’re at the top of a tree and you just have to jump and trust that your wings are strong enough to support you. That’s inspiring.

Every bird has gained his independence by taking a chance. I wish more people would. They’d be all the better for it.

Kookaburra

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