Freedom of Movement

There is an excellent yardstick for measuring liberty and quality of life. Simply consider how much freedom of movement you have. From that basic indicator, you can determine if you live in a police state and/or a cult, you will know how much information and education you have access to, and you will have a good sense of the level of prejudice you are being exposed to.

Your ability to travel goes hand in hand with your freedom. If you live in a country where the women cannot travel without the permission of their husbands or fathers, you live in a misogynistic police state. If you are in a religion that does not allow you to interact with outsiders or learn about opposing points of view, or worse yet, cuts you off from family, then you are in a cult. If you can’t go anywhere without having your papers constantly checked by authority figures, then you are a slave.

Inhibiting your ability to go where you wish is an effective way of controlling the information that you have access to. If you can’t even move about the internet, then someone else is controlling your narrative, and they have an agenda that is not in your best interest. If someone wants to leave and you don’t let them, then you have just reduced them to a mere object.

Also, preventing women or minorities from having access to education is a self-defeating power play. One should be able to travel in mind as well as body. If your opportunity to learn is hindered, you should wonder what the powers that be don’t want you to discover.

People who put up walls to restrict movement are the worst kind of racists. They are either attempting to keep a group out or keep a group in. Either way, they are restricting the flow of information, and preventing the masses from becoming unified. Divide and conquer.

The only things that should prevent you from being able to travel are your own priorities and your own budgetary constraints. And even that is a can of worms, because income inequality is another great way to keep us all ignorant and close to home.

The more you travel, the more you learn. The more you travel, the less you hate. The more you travel in mind, body, and spirit, the more you know what it is to be free.

Freedom

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The Value of Human Life

There is a reason that serial killers often target women, prostitutes, indigenous people, drug addicts, and the elderly. It’s because they can.  Just as predators often go for the weakest, slowest, or least supported or most isolated members of a herd, killers tend to go for what society deems to be the low hanging fruit. After all, who will care?

Well, I care. These people were daughters, sons, sisters, brothers, and friends. They lived and loved and laughed, and yes, screwed up, just as much as any other person has. They have just as much value as any rich, beautiful, blonde girl in this world.

I’m outraged at how often these cases go cold based on the “value” of the person who went missing. I guarantee you that if Ivanka Trump disappeared, the case wouldn’t go cold. Ever. And yet, according to this article, more than 2,000 indigenous women in the US and Canada have vanished without a trace in the past 20 years. Poof. Gone. And most of us have not heard of a single one of them. This is unacceptable.

We seem to devalue human life more and more. Hate is gaining a newfound acceptance in this country. What the hell is wrong with us?

We are all so hellbent on being at the top of the pecking order that anything that makes you stand out is a good way to classify you as a “them” instead of an “us”. Are you different than I am? Then you must be less than I am.

Is your skin color different? Yay for me! That makes you easy to eliminate. What if you don’t speak my language? Another thing that’s hard to hide and easy to discount. Is your gender or sexual orientation “questionable”? Are you deformed in any way? Too old? Do you have breasts? Do you wear a turban or a hijab or any other clothing that makes you stand out?

Then you are out, my friend. Way out. So far out that if you disappear, no one will miss you except the people who love you.

Something has to change, folks.

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White Boy

Growing up in a small town in the rural south, I encountered my fair share of interesting characters. One guy that I’d occasionally see around was known as “White Boy”. He was a huge guy with a huge chip on his shoulder. He was intimidating. He used to fight a lot. I never saw him smile. We weren’t friends.

White Boy came by his attitude honestly. He was actually African American. He also happened to be an albino. This made him the subject of ridicule from all sides.

As an African American in the South, he was already treated like crap by a huge segment of the population. But his albinism meant that he didn’t fit in with African Americans, either. I don’t know who started calling him White Boy, but no one seemed to know him by any other name. I wonder how he felt about that.

I can’t even begin to imagine what his life was like. I just knew that he was angry. As far as I was concerned, this made him one to be avoided. So that’s what I did.

A true test of one’s character is how one treats those who happen to cross one’s path. Looking back, I’m ashamed that I never learned White Boy’s name. I’m ashamed I never gave him a chance. I’m ashamed that I stared at him and avoided him, basically treating him as I would a strange and dangerous animal in a zoo. I never called him names or bothered him in any way. I just kept him trapped on the other side of the glass. That was cruel enough.

I have absolutely no excuse for my conduct, other than the fact that I was in my early teens, and no one was modeling better behavior. At the time, it didn’t occur to me to choose another path. That particular defining moment in my life is one of my everlasting regrets.

Wherever Wh… wherever that fellow human being is today, I hope he found, and continues to find, reasons to smile.

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An Open Letter to White Supremacists

First, let me give you my “bonafides”. According to Ancestry DNA, I’m about as white as a human being can be. That always has, and probably always will give me a leg up in society. I won’t even try to deny it. I also won’t deny that I’ve done little or nothing to earn this leg up. I was born into it, and oh, do I ever take advantage of it.

I can go weeks, months, even years not having to think about pesky racial issues if I so choose. I can live in a white bubble and have absolutely no contact with any minority for days on end. I don’t have to watch “them” on TV, or listen to “them” on the radio if I don’t want to. I can simply close my eyes and clutch my pearls. If I so desire, I can shop exclusively at white-owned stores without putting forth much effort at all. I probably do without even realizing it. I have the luxury of not having to care one way or the other.

People assume I’m law-abiding and honest. People assume I’m non-violent. People assume that I’m supposed to be wherever I happen to be, any time of the day or night. I’m a harmless fat old white woman. I’m as likely to get shot as I am to be struck by lightning. Most people don’t even look at me. I can become invisible. I often feel invisible. It’s lonely, but it has its advantages.

No, I’m not rich. I’m barely middle class, and I’ve only clawed my way up to this precarious and ever-shrinking perch in the past 3 years. I know what it’s like to be down there in that bucket of crabs, where everyone is scrabbling to get out, and just when you think you’ve made it, the other crabs pull you back down. I was there for 50 years. It’s frustrating. It’s heartbreaking. I understand that despair.

But here’s where you and I part company: I don’t assume that all the crabs that have been pulling me down are non-white. I don’t even bother to blame the other crabs regardless of their color. If you’re caught in a crowded, desperate bucket, it’s only natural to want to get your crabby butt out of there. It’s not the other crabs, guys. It’s the freakin’ bucket. There shouldn’t be a bucket.

That bucket was made by rich white people.  It’s the corporations and the politicians and the institutions that are your biggest threat. It’s the military-industrial complex that is using you as cannon fodder and replaceable cogs in the machine.

Railing at your crab-mates is a mere distraction. Glorifying Confederates, who lost for good reason, and Nazis, who lost for good reason, makes you look like fools. Being violent because you’re angry does not further your cause. It will never bring you respect or support or dignity. It won’t get you out of the bucket. Fascism has never benefited the masses, and like it or not, we are part of the masses.

I know it sucks that we’ll never have a delightful and stress-free retirement. I know it’s scary that things are getting more crowded and therefore more competitive. It’s high time you realize that automation is a much bigger threat to your job than other humans are. And most of those machines, by the way, are owned by white people.

If you honestly think for one minute that your crab-mates are out to destroy you or your way of life, ask yourself this: why are all of us striving for the same things? We all want a decent, safe, secure life. A way to feed our children. A roof over our heads. Peace. We have a lot more in common than you seem to think.

Don’t you get it? We are all in this together. And together we are stronger. The very fact that we are a mass is the one thing we have that those bucket manufacturers do not.

The reason you have the day off today is thanks to the labor movement, a movement of the masses. We can do great things if we stand shoulder to shoulder rather than turning our back on each other, or even worse, locking ourselves into mortal combat with each other while the bucket manufacturers gleefully watch from a distance.

Turning on each other is the last thing, the absolute last thing, we should be doing. Don’t be a pawn.

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Black Dog Syndrome

For years now I’ve been hearing that black dogs, especially big ones, are far less likely to be adopted out of shelters than dogs of other colors. I’ve known several shelter employees and volunteers who swear this is true. It’s called Black Dog Syndrome, and several studies verify that it actually happens.

But just as many studies prove that it doesn’t. I hope it doesn’t. I hope our silly prejudices don’t extend even to the hair color of dogs. I must admit that of all the dogs I’ve owned in my lifetime, Quagmire has been the only black one. But I don’t think that’s due to any conscious effort on my part. It just seemed to work out that way.

But I will make this solemn vow: every dog I adopt from here on out will be one that is harder to place. Give us your three legged, your half blind, your greying muzzles, your black dogs yearning to breathe free! I will make my home the island of misfit dogs, two at a time, until I’m too old to care for myself or them.

Because we misfits need love, too.

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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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A Few Thoughts on International Women’s Day

First of all, happy International Women’s Day! It’s nice to be recognized and celebrated. I’m glad that organizations throughout the world will be using this as an opportunity to speak out about equal rights. I’m thrilled that this will open up dialogues that many people wouldn’t otherwise have thought to have.

But at the same time, it frustrates me that we still need a day like this. Aren’t we women every day of the year? Don’t we deserve basic human rights all year round?

Recently I was sitting at a table with 15 other women, so I took an informal survey.

  • Raise your hand if you’ve ever been touched inappropriately without your permission.
  • Raise your hand if you’ve ever been cat called.
  • Raise your hand if anyone has ever discussed your breasts, behind, or legs without your initiating that conversation.
  • Raise your hand if your opinion has been dismissed as trivial.
  • Raise your hand if you’ve heard a man singing the words “bitch” “slut” or “ho” along with the radio.
  • Raise your hand if you yourself have been called a bitch, slut, or ho.
  • Raise your hand if you’ve seen nude women calendars in public places.
  • Raise your hand if you’ve been interrupted by a man who insists on explaining something to you that you already know.
  • Raise your hand if you’ve been treated like an idiot by a mechanic.
  • Raise your hand if men have assumed that you’re not intelligent.
  • Raise your hand if you’ve been rejected based on your weight, age, or shape.
  • Raise your hand if you’ve been criticized because of something you were wearing.
  • Raise your hand if people have assumed you need to ask a man’s permission to do something or go somewhere.
  • Raise your hand if you’ve been accused of not being feminine enough.
  • Raise your hand if you’ve been accused of being too girly.
  • Raise your hand if you’ve been told you do something good, “for a girl.”
  • Raise your hand if you’ve been criticized for not having children.
  • Raise your hand if you’ve been criticized for having children.
  • Raise your hand if you’ve been criticized for working.
  • Raise your hand if you’ve been criticized for not working.
  • Raise your hand if you’ve ever had to drive behind a truck with naked women mud flaps.
  • Raise your hand if you’ve been paid less than a male counterpart.
  • Raise your hand if men that you’ve trained have been promoted above you.
  • Raise your hand if a man assumed you needed his protection when you didn’t.
  • Raise your hand if you’ve been told something was women’s work.
  • Raise your hand if you’ve been accused of being emotional or hysterical.
  • Raise your hand if you’ve been physically, emotionally, or sexually abused.

Try giving this survey the next time you’re with female friends. It probably comes as no surprise to anyone reading this that in the vast majority of cases, every woman at the table raised her hand. And that’s probably the most outrageous part of all – that it comes as no surprise.

The only reason that this happens is that we are not in the exclusive group of humans who sports a penis. That simple fact makes “us” not “them”. As far as I can tell, that appendage does not endow people with superior abilities of any kind. It just means we get to be easily identified as being on the other team. And society has arbitrarily decided that our team gets to be the losing team. It’s not rational. It’s not just. And it’s not acceptable.

I for one am sick and tired of being treated to micro-aggressions every single day. Case in point, I looked at my supply of Graphicstock pictures to see which one to use for this blog entry. This, below, is their idea of a good image for Women’s Day. Because we all should be depicted as naked, sexy, thin, with long flowing hair and luscious lips, arching our backs while floating with our heads in a flowery cloud.

Happy Women’s Day, indeed.

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Mistaken Identity

There have been many instances in which people have made assumptions about me that weren’t true. I always find these experiences extremely disconcerting. I tend to wear my heart on my sleeve. I think of myself as someone who is pretty easy to read. But of course, I shouldn’t assume that total strangers know how to read me.

Once, I was shopping for a purse and my hands were full, so I put all my stuff on the floor and picked up a purse and looked inside to see if it had well designed compartments (as you do), and suddenly this store detective grabbed me rather forcefully by my arm. I looked at him and said, “What the hell?” and he apologized and walked off. He thought I was trying to steal the purse.

That reminded me of the many times I was followed by detectives in stores as a teenager. Yes, I was quite visibly poor, but that didn’t mean I was a thief. I’ve never stolen so much as a stick of gum in my entire life. (Well, that’s not true. I have walked off with my fair share of ball point pens. But I swear to you that it’s never intentional.)

Then there was the time when my greyhound ripped up my couch at 3 in the morning and gashed his leg wide open on the springs. I rushed him to the 24 hour emergency vet. The vet was hostile and uncooperative. I was freaked out and still in my pajamas, but that didn’t mean I was neglectful or abusive to my dog. He changed his attitude when I gave him the long list of very expensive medications that dog was on. Suddenly he looked at me in a completely different light. “Wow, maybe she does care about her dog.” That really pissed me off, because this was an emergency, for crying out loud. I didn’t have time to justify my character while my dog was bleeding out in the waiting room.

Once, while traveling in Turkey, I decided to rent a car for a portion of the journey. Simply because I was female, they wouldn’t rent the car to me unless I test drove it with them. They made it clear that they’d have felt much better if it had been my boyfriend driving. I found that quite amusing, since he’d been in no less than 7 car accidents, all of which were his fault. That’s why I did all the driving in that relationship.

I can’t count the number of times 911 operators have assumed I was a crank caller. I’ve also been accused of cheating when I hadn’t (big shout out to one of my ex’s entire freakin’ loser family), lying when I wasn’t, and being part of a bigger conspiracy when I couldn’t have cared less. I’ve also been told that I really must want children when I don’t, and that there’s something strange about me because I don’t want to dress sexy every waking moment of my life. Don’t even get me started on the innumerable times I have been considered less intelligent than I am.

There’s nothing more frustrating to me than being misunderstood. This makes me realize, though, that I get to hide behind my white privilege quite a bit. Most people assume I’m harmless, which means these negative situations crop up rarely enough to cause me outrage when they do. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be a minority and have to contend with this bs every single day.

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What Do You Do?

Americans sometimes shock people from other countries by asking them what they do for a living. In many places this is considered rude. Here, it’s almost as if you can’t really decide what to think about a person until you know what’s on their resume.

In Seattle, I often hesitate to tell people I’m a bridgetender. Oh, the initial reaction is the same as it was in Florida. “That’s so cool!” “Wow, I thought bridges were automated.” “I’ve never met a bridgetender. What’s it like?”

These questions make me smile. I am proud of my unique job. I love to talk about it.

But at some point I sense a shift. People are willing to ask me questions, but they’re not going to invite me to their dinner parties. This is a highly successful town, and I’m a blue collar girl. I don’t wear a suit to the office. As far as they’re concerned, I’m a glorified security guard. Fascinating to query, yes, but shouldn’t you be using the service entrance, dear? Be sure and wipe your feet.

I find this intensely frustrating because I have three college degrees, an extremely high IQ, and I’m now a published author. I’m much more than my scruffy work shoes.

I’ve even been passed over for dates because of my job. For example, I can meet a guy and really hit it off. Things can be going well. Then the career thing comes up, and he can’t disappear fast enough. I don’t know if he suddenly thinks I’m a gold digger or if he’s concluded that he couldn’t show me off to his friends, but poof! He’s gone.

I’ve also gotten the impression that once I reveal that I’m in in a traditionally male job, suddenly my sexual orientation comes into question. I get that a lot, actually. I usually don’t care unless I’m looking for romance.

Plain and simple: I am what I am, but that’s not all that I am. But I’m getting a little too old and tired to work up the energy to break through barriers that I myself haven’t erected.

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On Being Hated

The other day I had to go down to the south end of my drawbridge to do some maintenance. During rush hour, that involves walking down to the traffic light and crossing the road at the crosswalk. On this particular day there was a homeless woman sitting beside the crosswalk button. When I approached, she said, “Did you have fun playing with Catherine?”

When I told her that I didn’t know Catherine, she replied, “I find that to be bullshit,” and proceeded to curse me like a sailor.

Needless to say I was a bit startled. I was really happy when the light turned red and I was able to cross the street and get away from her. Apparently I need to leave Catherine alone. Not a problem.

That reminded me of something that happened about a month ago. I was walking down the sidewalk in the Capitol Hill neighborhood. That is kind of the LGBTQ hub here in Seattle. A man across the street started screaming at me. He called me a “dirty dyke” and told me I should repent.

Being mistaken for a lesbian bothers me not at all. It’s not the first time, and it won’t be the last. But hey! I am not dirty. I shower. I floss. I shave my arm pits and everything. The nerve of some people.

As an average-looking white woman, I have the luxury of being shocked when random people hate me without knowing me. I will never have to resign myself to prejudice because I rarely encounter it. That makes me a very lucky person indeed.

So twice this month I got a tiny little insignificant taste of what it must be like to be a member of a minority. Being misunderstood and hated without being known is a really confusing and frustrating experience. And the sad thing is that there seems to be very little that you can do about it. It’s like being forced to stand there while acid is poured on you, by dint of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

You may not have any control over the emotions that come at you from others, but you have all the control in the world over the type of energy you put out. The best way to be a positive force for change in this world is to make sure you are not one of the acid pourers.

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